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There’s been some interesting critical discussions of some design and product changes within Google Reader recently and I’ve kind of stayed out of it since I’m heads down on making big changes elsewhere. But I grabbed a few minutes, and I’d like to share a few notes I’ve written about it…

• If Reader continues being understaffed, absorbed, or is eliminated then the internal culture at Google will adjust to a newly perceived lack of opportunity for building things that are treasured. No one knows what effect this will actually have, though. The response could be tiny.

• Technology will route around the diminishment or disappearance of Reader. Even if this means something other than feeds are being used.

It’s a tough call. Google’s leaders may be right to weaken or abandon Reader. I feel more people should acknowledge this.

• However, saying “no” to projects doesn’t make you Steve Jobs if you say no to inspiring things. It’s the discernment that’s meaningful, not the refusal. Anyone can point their thumb to the ground.

• The shareable social object of subscribe-able items makes Reader’s network unique and the answer to why change is painful for many of its users is because no obvious alternative network exists with exactly that object. The social object of Google+ is…nearly anything and its diffuse model is harder to evaluate or appreciate. The value of a social network seems to map proportionally to the perceived value of its main object. (Examples: sharing best-of-web links on Metafilter or sharing hi-res photos on Flickr or sharing video art on Vimeo or sharing statuses on Twitter/Facebook or sharing questions on Quora.) If you want a community with stronger ties, provide more definition to your social object.

Reader exhibits the best unpaid representation I’ve yet seen of a consumer’s relationship to a content producer. You pay for HBO? That’s a strong signal. Consuming free stuff? Reader’s model was a dream. Even better than Netflix. You get affinity (which has clear monetary value) for free, and a tracked pattern of behavior for the act of iterating over differently sourced items – and a mechanism for distributing that quickly to an ostensible audience which didn’t include social guilt or gameification – along with an extensible, scalable platform available via commonly used web technologies – all of which would be an amazing opportunity for the right product visionary.

• Reader is (was?) for information junkies; not just tech nerds. This market totally exists and is weirdly under-served (and is possibly affluent).

• The language for decisions based on deferred value is all about sight, which I find beautiful (and apt for these discussions). People are asking if Google is seeing the forest for the trees. I’d offer that Google is viewing this particular act-of-seeing as a distraction.

• Reader will be an interesting footnote in tech history. That’s neat and that’s enough for me; wasn’t it fun that we were able to test if it worked?

• Google is choosing to define itself by making excellent products in obvious markets that serve hundreds of millions of people. This is good. A great company with evident self-consciousness that even attempts to consider ethical consequences at that scale is awesome. But this is a perfect way to avoid the risk of creating entirely new markets which often go through a painful not-yet-serving-hundreds-of-millions period and which require a dream, some dreamers, and not-at-all-measurable luck. Seemingly Google+ could be viewed as starting a new market, but I'd argue that it mainly stands a chance of improving on the value unlocked by other social networks, which is healthy and a good thing, but which doesn't require an investigation into why it's valuable. That's self-evident in a Facebook world. Things like Reader still need a business wizard to help make sense of the value there.

• If Google is planning on deprecating Reader then its leaders are deliberately choosing to not defend decisions that fans or users will find indefensible. This would say a lot about how they would communicate to the marketplace for social apps and about how they'd be leading their workforce. If this is actually occurring and you’re internal to Google – it's ok, I can imagine you’d be feeling that these decisions are being made obtusely “just because” or since “we need to limit our scope to whatever we can cognitively or technically handle” or such but I’d offer that maybe it's needed for driving focus for a large team? I suppose sacrificing pet projects, public responsibility, and transparency could be worth it if the end is a remarkable dream fulfilled. But what if the thing you’re driving everyone toward isn’t the iPod but is instead the Zune? So just make sure it's not that.

• The following sentence is unfair but it's a kind of myth and fog that has been drifting into view about 'em: Google seems to be choosing efforts like SketchUp over Reader. I doubt there's a common calculus, but it’s now harder for Google's users to really know how important it is that many millions of people are using a product every day when Google is deciding its evolution and fate.
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30 comments
 
I am excited to see all the new feed readers. I think newsblur, or hivemined are in the best positon right now to absorb the google reader audience.
Noj Vek
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newsblur totally rocks.
 
To Barry: I typed these as notes over the last few weeks and didn't spend time cleaning 'em up. Sorry for any confusion. I meant...

a) some employees will think there's less opportunity to build things that have devoted audiences that love them unless there's a sense that hundreds of millions of people will use it,

b) metaphors used in sentences like "seeing the forest for the trees" or "Bezos had great vision" are used as shorthand for seeing value where others can't perceive it (which I find kind of neat). also, the ability to see that something's valuable is what's being deferred in my note and that's not clear from what I typed,

c) fans of Reader will probably find decisions to abandon or remove Reader indefensible. (i don't entirely agree, i can always imagine rare, snowflake-like good reasons) but if Google's already got that planned and they're choosing not to say anything right now then that would be a choice they're making on how communication between products, users, and employees should continue in this case (and a bit sad) - but I dunno if this is actually what's happening since I don't work there anymore.

English is my first language; I'm still an apprentice at using it for expression, though.
 
The problem with reader going away is that I have an insane amount of history in here. I have some feeds where the actual site/feed has gone away, but I still have a 'copy' in my reader. I can search for and find it. It isn't just the continual consuming, it is the history of consumption that has value to me.
 
It seems like an odd decision to try and drive Google Reader users to Google+. The RSS consumer chose RSS over visiting sites precisely because they don't want to wade through all of the distractions, not know when they've hit the end of new stuff, or get served content that they don't want. Google+ to an RSS reader is exactly that - how do I know that I've seen all of my friend's shared items, how do I get the good and filter out the inanities, etc.

Google killed years of good will that they had built up with me and my circle of friends with this decision. How is that smart business?
 
Thet main reason I used Google Reader was for it's awesome sharing (i.e. it spat out an RSS feed of shared item, all of them together and shared items by folder too). Removing that killer feature (which was an important part of my workflow - it feed that feed into other sites etc) has made me much more aware of how precarious it is depending on large unaccountable corporates to provide infrastructure of any kind. I'm very seriously considering closing my gmail/ google apps accounts because of this. I now feel that google can no longer be trusted with my data. I just hope that HiveMined will have the same RSS features Reader had...
 
It's only a tough call if you are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, or are analyzing this without emotion. If you're working off of public knowledge, it seems that they are attempting to funnel their smaller communities into G+, with no care for casualties. Even if this is the most optimal business decision, I don't think it's a tough call whether they could have used some tact when breaking up the party they've been hosting.
 
No one wants to be pushed, much less the typical Google Reader user. It is clear that Google wants to move all their user communities, including the Reader users, under the G+ umbrella - it is the execution that makes me wonder what's going on.
The best (only?) way to move such a community is to pull them over to the new ground, while keeping current functionality intact. I am sure the appearance could have been made Google Docs like without impacting functionality too much. Sharing could have been technically integrated with G+ while leaving it optional to use G+ functionality.
What really makes me wonder is why it was decided like this - and even worse - communicated in a 'take it or leave it' manner. I can see no advantage for Google in acting this way. I wonder even more, because of the good work Google does in other areas, for example in Google Docs.
Personally the decision to kill it hurts me, since I just recently came back to Google Reader after alleviating privacy concerns I held for some time.
 
This is what I wrote the day I discovered the change, I am an information junkie and I feel like a hostage of google, it is a very despotic way to treat people, I don't know where google+ is heeding but I have no pleasure using it.So here it is:
'I am lost and upset, I loved my google reader the way it was, I was used to seeing your shares, it made me feel I was reading with a company of people whose opinions and likes I valued very much , some of you made me discover interesting sites, topics ... it sucks, really.'
J. Merc
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I need an interpreter for all of that...
 
I like Google+ for what it is, but it certainly doesn't serve the same use case as Google Reader. Google Reader was a fire hose for info addicts, with a curation model built on top of it. Google+ is a water fountain in comparison. I hate feeling like a curmudgeon about this stuff, but lately I just feel like shaking my fist and yelling, "Get off my lawn!"
 
Many of us are trying to repair the damage and figure out where to go from here. Choices are emerging. As +alex kessinger mentions Hivemined.org and NewsBlur are replacement social RSS readers, but neither has Google's imprimatur or built-in user base. I'm personally working on a new Share bookmarklet to replace "Note In Reader" and want to integrate back into the official reader. Please join the discussion at https://groups.google.com/group/google-reader-diaspora and check my brainstorming and feature development at http://sharebro.org
 
following the google's wish to keep people on google.com the easiest way out would be:
* to allow people on google+ to filter content out and get RSS feed for whatever filter they want
* to allow people to publish any of those streams/RSS feeds on blogger where the new experimental "7 skins layout" can become a killer app

that will not happen because google is not interested in empowering their users to become (still trackable) media producers but they want their users as trackable and tractable dumb consumers. and that's mainly due to the fact that even if you do the best technology to make people into producers this still will be small fraction of the world of dumb consumers.

google doesn't get social. google reader was the only google's social network done right because that's/was the nerdiest of all social networks (including friendfeed). passion, enthusiasm, commitment are harder to measure then total number of clicks but not impossible. if google gets that it would make it smarter company but also scarier. maybe it's just better they don't get it.
 
sorry, you guys ruined it in an attempt to ferry more traffic to your failing google+, that's the only way i can see it.
 
Oddly for me, it's been the change in the "magic" algorithm that has had the most negative effect on my experience (besides the brain-dead bloated whitespace layout). I really enjoyed having a large number of feeds and letting google not just sort them based on popularity, but provide an even mix between them. It seems the backend got a lot dumber in this case, which is very disappointing.

If anyone should be fired in all of this, it's who chose to manage the user communication. This could have been handled in a way that got people on board, instead google just said "We're sorry some of you aren't gonna like the change, the door is over there."

I hope the teams at google actually care about how users feel about their product. I've worked for several small startups and we take it very personally. I sincerely hope that someone is listening to user feedback and that there are plans to address the concerns/problems. I understand that the product is free, however, it's not like Google gets nothing out of it.

If Google does decide that it's more trouble than it's worth, I see a real opportunity for some startup to make a killing (like pinboard.in did after the rumors that Yahoo! was going to kill del.icio.us made the press).

On the whole, I'm disappointed because I really thought Google didn't make mistakes like this. Gmail was a huge deal. It showed developers what was possible to do with the web. It opened up possibilities. It lead the way.

This has done quite a bit to walk all of that back for me. I guess those guys moved on.

Too bad.
 
I loved Reader, and still find myself reaching for the 'share' button. But even through all of my reader followers are on google plus, none of us actually look there for shared stuff. We've just stopped sharing. (Or, if I really want to share something now, I've gone back to emailing the damn thing.) I'll wager this isn't isolated to my social group, either - Google's attempts to shove Reader users into Plus is failing badly, because (as has already been mentioned over and over) Plus just isn't workable.

Google plus could be made halfway suitable if the concept of read/unread posts and comments was implemented, so that you can mark things to read later, keep track of conversations replied to, find things that you wanted to read but didn't have time when you first saw them (otherwise, now, they disappear into the stream).

Also differentiating between self posts (posts without links, where most of the time people are ruminating about their cat costume) and linked posts, so us information junkies can at least filter out some of the facebook drivel. I really hate having to wade through people's diatribes about their mother-in-law to read the thing they shared about CERN.

From Google's announcements and lack of interaction about this change, it seems very much like they don't care about their reader users, or improving Plus to work for them (or arguably, work better for others, too). I know we're just a product, but if you want to keep your products, you need to make them feel like they're customers.
 
Can Google measure the number of Google Plus posts that are Google Reader Shares? If that number is sufficiently high enough to create a strong flow of posts in Plus, would that help?
Reader stops you missing posts, but the sharing in plus, because of its flow, means that items shares drop away like old twitter posts.
 
+Will Knott I would suspect that a high volume of shares from Reader would prompt them to think "oh, look, it's working, we don't have to do anything about it" rather than address any issues with it. Why would people use something if it's broken?

I'll read something in Reader and want to share it, and then sigh in irritation and go to the next item, because I know everyone who might have been interested to see that item doesn't bother with Plus, and won't see it.

So if we use it, they'll think it works. If we don't use it, they'll think Reader wasn't that important anyway. Can't win.
 
I don´t understand that the difficulty is...

Want to share a post? There´s an email option. Or you just +1 it and share it with the people you want to share. Next time they´re in reader, they´ll receive a pretty little notification up on top of the page and they´ll see what you shared with them...

Is that really a hard thing to do? The g+ notifications are the easiest way to see. And you´ll get it when you´re using all the other google products, and not just reader. Seems like an advantage to me.

Oh, and the old reader was hideous.

Google plus isn´t a separate product. It is there to connect all of the google products. People are using gmail, reader, search, docs... google just gave us an easier way to share and communicate between them. People just need to stop comparing it to facebook and see that that is not the purpose of g+. Facebook is a standalone product. G+ is an addition (+) to the existing google products.
 
+Felipe Santos Not really an addition when
1. they're cannibalizing other services to force people over to G+
2. G+, for reasons already explained several times both in this post an all over the internet, is not a suitable replacement for the removed features
3. Forcing someone to use two services in place of one is not an 'addition'.

Also: Sharing by email is antiquated and a poor tool for group discussion. G+ does not notify you of new or unread shares, only of additions to posts you've already commented on or +1'd - I don't know if my friends have shared something unless I go over to their G+ steam. Thirdly, instead of one place where all my blog-and-interesting-information is read, I now have to go somewhere else and sift through facebook-esque crap to find the stuff other people thought I might find interesting. How is any of that a good thing?
 
+Sofie Bird if you haven't already, come to http://sharebro.org/auth and save off your friends list. We are already working on putting a Share button back in to Reader, which will save your shares into a list outside Google's realm, but still subscribable inside Reader. I'm pretty sure we can get most of the functionality back that Google so callously removed, and some aspects of the new system will be even better.
 
+Sofie Bird Yes. It is an addition to all of the google products, I can guarantee you that they didn't make g+ just to split reader into 2 different things :)

It just comes down to the same whining that happens on facebook too every time they change something.

We use a bunch of google's products, we don't pay a single cent for it, but yet, if they make the slightest change to something, everybody flips out as if they don't have the right to do what they feel is necessary to better their products.

So it can all be put into a simple statement: first world problem.
 
if we keep call it "product integration" we are missing the main point:
if you get things through rss you should give it back as rss. as simple as that. google decided not to play that game. many people are disappointed because google use to play that game differently before. google+ changed that. not for the good. but for the evil ;)
 
It's interesting to read this today with the announcement that Google Reader is being shuttered.
 
Indeed it is.

R.I.P. Google Reader. You will be sorely missed.
 
Since we don't know the numbers for Google Reader, it's hard to say if this was a bad idea or not. Obviously there were at least some users, and if they continued using it, they must enjoy it, but if you haven't found a way to monetize it, you are losing money on it year after year, and use/membership is continually declining, why should you keep paying for it? We also don't know their road map. If they intend to integrate RSS feeds into G+, then why would they keep reader? Since none of us know what's going on in the background, we can't really pass judgement on their decision to kill a free product. Even if the decision they made is a right one, you can still be sad about losing your beloved Reader.

BTW didn't Google sell Sketchup?
 
Agreed. Google is a data-driven company and the data must have told them that Reader was not a valuable property. The fact that the service has seen no changes for quite a while shows that it doesn't have attention internally (at least not the kind of attention it wants).

I use Google Reader daily and love it, but I can't argue with good business decisions. If keeping Google Reader alive was detracting from resources that are better used elsewhere in Google, I applaud them for making an unpopular but wise decision. 

That said, I want my Google Reader...
 
It would be cool if they could have open-sourced it, or sold it, but if it relies heavily on their other proprietary services (such as their webcrawlers), and it's not profitable, then it might not have been possible or ethical to sell it/open source it.
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