I’ve yet to meet anybody who used Google’s RSS Reader more, or pushed it harder than I have over the last eight years. I consult its aggregations on my desktop the first thing in the morning, even before retrieving my four daily newspapers from the curb. Later, like a donkey following a carrot on a stick, I nibble on my iPhone feed as I walk to the subway. At work, I keep Reader open to follow blogs and news and , to the neglect of my children, it has been my steady bedtime companion for some time.
So when Google announced last week that it was sending Reader to the software slaughterhouse on July 1, I took to Twitter to object. Knowing that Google was unlikely to give the service a reprieve, the next thing I did was export my Reader settings and shop the alternatives.
One thing I didn’t do was to write a column accusing Google of betraying my trust, as Om Malik, James Fallows, Ezra Klein, Alex Hern of the New Statesman, The Week, and others did. Nor did I vow not to use Google’s new product, an Evernote substitute called Google Keep, ‘lest the company yank the rug out from under me again. I never trusted Google in the first place. I never thought it would support its products forever. As Slate’s Google graveyard attests, the company has routinely created and abruptly killed off software services, often tossing out the minimum viable product and watching to see if it caught on before putting any further effort into developing it.
The old software maxim — if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product — is true of almost every Google service. Google sells your Gmail activity — as well as your searches of the Web, images, maps, and use of its other services — to advertisers. We, the Google Reader product, weren’t producing much, if anything, in revenue for Google, so the company fired us.
The death sentence Google has dealt Google Reader doesn’t mark the end of RSS aggregation, of course. As long as you’ve exported your Reader settings and imported them to another RSS reader, you’ll still be able to consume your usual feeds. What is lost in the Reader kerfuffle is the easy synchronization of feeds across devices, which is dominated by Google, and which is what made Google Reader so splendid: Your iPhone RSS reader always knew what your desktop RSS reader had added or subtracted from your feed or what you’d already read. But all is not lost. As long as Feedly makes good on its promise to clone the Google Reader API (and we switch our RSS readers), we should be able to maintain the synchronization miracle. I’m crossing my fingers.