Did you hear about Google's sweet new app called Keep? After five years of Android existing without a basic note-taking app like iOS had for forever, Google finally got around to creating its own. Oh, and it even added a to-do list and picture uploading and voice memos and-wait, what's that? You don't want to use it because Google Reader closed? I'm not sure I follow.
I'm an open-minded kind of guy, though. I believe that problems can be solved by talking them out. And it's not like I'm not sensitive to your feelings. After all, I used Google Reader, too. It was my favorite RSS app. I probably didn't use it as much as you did, but it was fantastic. And now I need to find a new one. I guess Feedly will do. So, yes, I know your pain. Come on. Let's talk this through, shall we? Why are you afraid to use Google Keep?
Google Closed A Service That A Lot Of People Used
Yes. This is true. But it's also true that either a.) usage of Reader has declined over time, or 2.) Google is a lying liar who lies lies with its liar mouth. Unfortunately, since Google doesn't release user numbers, we can't say one way or another whether that really is the case, but chances are the cynical will assume that it's malarkey and the faithful will trust that Google knows how data works.
However, before we go jumping to the conclusion that Google heartlessly put down a beloved service to make a rug out of its skin, we must keep in mind one very important, essential fact for living online:
Your cloud services are not in your control.
This does not just apply to Google. Take a look at Apple. Its cloud services have changed names three or four times in the last decade alone. MobileMe, .mac, iCloud. The utility of those services has shifted wildly, as well. Microsoft is no darling child, either. Hotmail is being merged with Outlook, Skype and Messenger are being shoved together, and the entirety of the Windows ecosystem is being shoehorned into your Microsoft account whether you like it or not. The three biggest names in software have not and will not hesitate to decide how you use their free online products if they believe it will benefit either themselves or the user. And yes, sometimes changes are made to make things better for the user, too. But we'll get to that.
It's hard to accept, but if you trust a cloud services company to handle your data or to provide a product for you—especially if they do it for free—it may be acquired, shuttered, merged, pivoted, or abandoned at any time. In fact, if I had to guess, I'd bet that Google Voice users should be wary. With the lack of attention that's gone into that product, I'd wager you're (again, I'm) next in line. But we may also get a neat new unified messenger out of the deal.
Google Just Did This To Promote Google+
Uh, hey guys. Remember me?
Err. Well. Okay, see here's the thing. If you asked me to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Google didn't kill off Reader because it wants to focus its social efforts on Google+, I couldn't do it. However, there's another product that fits the bill much better: Currents. In this app you can add your own RSS feeds, or monitor more dynamic versions of a site's content that allows creators to have control over how articles, videos, audio, and social posts are displayed. In short, it does what an RSS reader does and more, but nicer-looking.
Note I say nicer-looking. Not better. Because there are some areas that Currents does not beat Reader. It doesn't have a desktop client. It doesn't have a lot of pro-level features. It only recently allowed you to sync your reading location in feeds. It doesn't have a condensed version that makes it easy to scan headlines and mark a bunch read as you go. In short: it's not a pro-level product. And that, more than anything, is what people are upset about. Google killed off one tool that is great for productivity and replaced it with one that is more consumer-friendly.
Case in point: My dad. He loves Currents. It's his primary method of reading Android Police. He's not alone, either. Our site has 218,249 subscribers in Currents. Given that, we must have a million Reader subscribers right? So, what's that number?
You read that right. We have nearly ten times more followers already in Google Currents than we have in Google Reader (and that number was taken before we plugged Currents earlier today). In fact, we only have 90,067 followers on Google+. This is not representative of the whole internet, but if I were Google, I'd be more interested in what Currents can do to replace Reader than I am in Google+.
Reader Didn't Make Money, So Google Might Pull Anything Else That Doesn't
This is a very problematic way of thinking. Largely because Google makes money on ads, so everyone assumes that new products will have ads in them. Except they don't. I can think of four major services that have ads: Search, Gmail, Maps, and YouTube. These are the primary methods of delivery for advertisements and most are clearly marked as such. On the contrary here's a list of services I can't find ads on even when looking for them (feel free to correct):
- Image Search
- Google Now
This both a good and a bad thing. Since Larry Page took over Google again on April 4th, 2011, he's been famously pushing the entire company to put 'more wood behind fewer arrows.' The result has been that there are fewer areas where Google competes with itself, which was a major source of criticism. Heck, just mention the various different messaging clients Google has and watch people's blood boil. "Should I use Google Voice, Google Talk, G+ Messenger, or Messaging? Which one?!" It's a problem. A very big problem. People even cry for Android and Chrome OS to merge, despite Google's objections.
Truthfully, the result of the unification initiative has been pretty good. In a couple short years, Google's gone from being a haphazard collection of 20% ideas and "design by committee" (remember that phrase?) to a more cohesive platform with industry-leading UI. In a lot of ways, life is better. Things are easier to use, they look nicer, and Holo has become a religion.
The criteria for keeping products has changed. Now, a Google-y service has the highest likelihood of surviving if it fits into the overall product suite. If it's essential. If it's something that the average consumer needs and that will encourage people to use Google's tent pole services and platforms. Is it a shift in priority? Yes. Does it mean that some specialized software will get neglected in favor of consumer-oriented software? Yes. Does it mean you can never trust a Google product (or any cloud service!) again because who knows when it will disappear? No. At least, no more than before.
This Is Different, This Kills RSS, Like, For Real This Time
Dead or not dead? You decide!
This is where things get a little silly. Despite some people claiming that Google could easily make money on this, the contradictory argument is that RSS will die if Google doesn't keep it alive. This is, quite simply, hogwash. For starters, RSS is a spec, not a product. It's maintained by the RSS Advisory Board and as long as they keep up with modern conventions, the spec can't really "die." Sites can continue to use RSS for as long as they'd like.
Of course, what people are referring to when they talk about the death of RSS is a lack of people using it, or apps to support it. Amusingly, "RSS is dead" is such a tired trope that, apparently, even saying "RSS is dead" is dead. And yet, years after some of those articles I've linked, people are still clamoring over the demise of just one reader. Not only that, but after Google made the announcement, every single website in the entire friggin' world has stepped up to offer alternatives to Google Reader.
Oh and lest we forget, there's a reason we keep mentioning Feedly instead of the dozens of other apps. It was one of the first to announce that it would be building a complete API replacement. In other words, that syncing thing that we all loved Google Reader for? Feedly was working on duplicating that long before Google pulled the plug. Digg is also planning one, too, which may actually give us a reason to care about Digg again.
It took all of five minutes after Google's announcement that it would kill off Reader this summer for the internet to step up and fill the void. RSS is not dead. Google can't kill it and we will continue to be able to use readers of all shapes and sizes for a while. The difference is, now instead of waiting around for Google to finally add a tablet layout to its own friggin' Android app, we'll have a half dozen competitors all trying to outdo each other and claim the new top spot. In other words, we get competition back.
Okay, Fine, I Just Feel Lost Is All
I know you do. It's not an easy thing to deal with. When a beloved service goes away, it feels like there's a hole that can't be filled. I get that. Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. It may be hard to hear this, but in 15-20 years, most services you use now will either be closed, have different names, be purchased by corporate giants, or will simply be made obsolete. Everything. IMDb, Dropbox, Skype, Evernote, Twitter, Facebook or, yes, possibly even Gmail. When I look at the products I use today I can't think of a single one I was using ten or fifteen years ago. I still sent emails, messages, texts, documents, pictures, and videos over the internet back then, but things change. In fact the only piece of software that has stayed is Windows.
It's a painful transition, and it won't be the last one. Can you trust that, if you start using Google Keep, that you'll still be using it in five to ten years? Nope. Not at all. But have you been using your old to-do list for the last ten years? Probably not. Heck, after the mobile revolution, I should hope you're not using the same to-do list you've had for forever.
This is the fundamental feature and flaw with the tech world: we keep moving forward. It's not perfect. It's not even great sometimes. It's unstable as hell. You should probably never count on any cloud service being there a decade later. That's the trade-off though. Every time you check an email on your phone and it's marked as read on your tablet, every time you take a picture and it shows up in Dropbox, every time you send an SMS from your desktop instead of reaching for your phone, remember that. Those things are only possible because we like the benefits of the ubiquitous client and the seamless transitions more than we hate it when one of our favorite products gets retired and we have to find a new one.
There will always be people who hate this new-fangled world and, frankly, I can't say I blame them. But this has been the way tech is since the early days of the personal computer. And I don't know about you, but I think that 2013 is a hell of a lot better than 1984. Even without Google Reader.
Image credit: Reddit