“Google Reader will not be available after July 1, 2013”, read the popup message on Google Reader this morning. It’s impossible to ignore. It’s right there, in the center of the screen, ensuring you, the loyal user, know that Google is sunsetting Reader in three months. To some, this is a knife in the back, a kick in the shins, a betrayal of biblical proportion. But seriously: chill.
The news hit many of us at TC hard. Google Reader has been a part of our daily lives for years. It’s a loyal friend, selflessly serving up the best of the Internet and filtering all the nonsense. But soon it will be gone. Forever.
George Harrison said it best: “All things must pass.” And it’s time to let Google Reader go. It’s time for something new. It’s time for something better. The Internet will be just fine without Google Reader.
Google launched Reader in 2005. It was originally part of Google Labs and little has changed since then. New features slowly made their way to the platform and the UI kept pace with Google’s overall look. But it’s still about the same product now that it was eight years ago.
For Internet addicts and bloggers alike, Reader is unique. Leveraging the power of RSS, Reader effortlessly pulled content from countless sites, curating a personalized view of the Internet that syncs between devices. Between my personal and business accounts, I track 1,436 sites, which are neatly organized into appropriate folders. It’s a lovely experience that evolves a little bit more each day. Google doesn’t care about Reader. It’s a burden at best and a resource sink at worst. As Dave Winer noted, “Next time, please pay a fair price for the services you depend on.” RSS is a computationally expensive process and leaving Reader to rot wasn’t helping anyone.
Here’s the thing: this is a massive opportunity for a startup. Google clearly doesn’t care about its Reader business but there is a dedication and vocal following. There are several petitions floating around, begging and pleading Google to reconsider. But Google likely has the data to support its decision. A reversal isn’t likely. This is good.
For all its strengths, Google Reader is relativity weak. It’s an old product. Reader is, at best, just an RSS reader. It’s a very fine RSS reader that’s made even better by being part of Google’s vast ecosystem. But features are missing. It’s time for something better.
Once upon a time, Reader acted as rudimentary social network, allowing users to share stories from within the app. But Google pulled this beloved feature with the launch of Google+. As it sits right now, Google Reader lacks any social or collaboration features. A startup could fix that.
Google Reader’s simplicity isn’t necessarily a weakness. Reader is easy to use, not needlessly flashy, and doesn’t force bloat down the throat. That’s the trick that will be hard to replicate.
Flud, for example, has long attempted to fill the void and the startup recently started focusing on internal news sharing — think Yammer meets Reader. Their latest product even has a robust analytically dashboard, giving managers and admins deep insight into their employees news viewing and communication habits. It’s more than just reading websites, the startup is attempting to improve collaboration and communication. Plus Flud looks amazing.
NewsBlur is a fantastic cross-platform RSS reader. It has a lot of the sharing tools and costs just $1 a month for an unlimited amount of feeds. It’s worth a buck a month.
Feedly quickly announced last night that they won’t be buried with Reader. Their blog post on it states they expected this to eventually happen and have been working on a solution. When Google kills off Reader this summer, Feedly will switch to its own backend. So far, Feedly is my favorite alternative.
Forced closure of software products, as they say, is the mother of invention. Google Reader has lived a quiet, but celebrated life. Google wouldn’t have killed the product if there was a significant user base. It just so happens to hit our corner of the Internet particularly hard. Google Reader users happen to be on the Internet a lot and they’re a vocal bunch.
RSS readers might not be a huge business, but there will soon be a gaping hole in the market ready for a startup to fill. And next time, maybe throw the RSS reader company a dime or two instead of expecting the service for free? Just to make sure this doesn’t happen again? I know I will.