Earlier this week, Google announced that they were shutting down Google Reader, their web-based RSS aggregator and feedreader, claiming that usage has declined and citing the need to focus on fewer products.
Google Reader has always had a small, but pretty vocal group of supporters, and I’m one of them. I’m in Reader as much as Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook. It’s invaluable for managing what would otherwise be a deluge of blog entries, news articles, etc. (Some claim that Twitter et al. can replace RSS, but I’m with Brent Simmons and Marc Weidenbaum: RSS ain’t going away anytime soon.)
As such, Google’s announcement is rather frustrating, especially if it’s ultimately an attempt to get people to use Google+.
Numerous articles have been posted suggesting Google Reader alternatives. I’m currently given Feedly a spin, and it’s OK, though it feels a little over-engineered and over-designed to me. Google Reader wasn’t pretty, but it was functional, and really, that’s all I ever want from a feed reader. But perhaps Marco Arment is right, and Google Reader’s demise will create a space for innovation in the RSS app/service market. (For example, Digg announced that they’re building an RSS reader later this year.)
Does Google Reader’s death signal something more troubling than merely having to find a new RSS app/service, though? Aldo Cortesi thinks so, claiming that Google Reader was so ubiquitous that it effectively became synonomous with “RSS” and with its death, readers “will inevitably abandon the idea of direct subscription to blogs entirely. In the next few months, tens of thousands of small blogs will lose direct contact with a large fraction of their readers.”
For some, however, Google Reader’s demise doesn’t just mean they’ll be less likely to subscribe to blogs. It means they’ll be less likely to access them at all. Currently, Iranians use Google Reader to get around their country’s censorship and access contraband material. When Reader goes, it’ll be much more difficult to avoid government censorship. This is an eye-opening piece, and serves as a good reminder that technology is used in some pretty ingenious and surprising ways, which can cause the clash between makers and users to take some surprising forms.