I am fascinated by all of the discussion of Google’s decision yesterday to terminate Google Reader effective July 1. I recall Reader’s origins in 2004, when I was thrilled to find a way to scan news items and blog posts, mark some for further, deeper reading, and organize my reading into my several topic areas of deep interest.
I’ve always presumed that most people use RSS readers, and read Knowledge Problem and other blogs via an RSS reader. Apparently I am mistaken, and a lot of reading has transitioned from RSS readers to more magazine-style applications, like Flipboard and Zite (and Google’s offering, Currents, which I have on my iPad but don’t use). While I like reading casually using Flipboard and Zite on my iPad, Google Reader has been my mainstay because it integrates across my iPad, Android phone, and our various desktops of various operating systems. It’s clean and simple, and enables me to get informed when and how I want.
There are two interesting dynamics in play here. One is how Google stripped Reader of its community/social features in 2011, moving social network link sharing to Google+ (which I use occasionally, but it hasn’t captivated my scarce attention). Reader’s continued popularity among a set of goal-oriented users is an indication that not all online readers want their reading experience to be social. Sure, it’s pretty easy to share items on other platforms if you so choose, but if you don’t value the integrated social aspect of an RSS reader then, Reader was a good choice.
I don’t think the potentially niche aspect of the Reader population was its death-knell, though (heck, aren’t we living in the long tail? Paging Chris Anderson …). The second dynamic is the one that I think is Reader’s death-knell: it’s not an advertising-friendly platform. As noted in this post, the RSS model is dying, at least as a Google platform, because it is not very compatible with advertising (hat tip to Tyler Cowen in his Twitter feed for the link).
I suspect that we’ll find other alternatives emerge, and perhaps even some advertising-friendly ones to pay for themselves, as the July date approaches. The existing options (Reeder, Feedly, etc.) will adapt, to their benefit. In my case, I’ll be dusting the cobwebs off of my old NetVibes account and porting over my links.
Do you use Reader? Another RSS reader? Rely on bookmarks within your browser? How do you consume online content?