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Close of Google Reader: Google's Dark Side?

Last week Google annouced that on July 1 it will close its RSS feed reader service, known as Google Reader.

Google Reader, like other feed readers (RSS or Atom, mainly) is a very practical way to keep up with new content that is published on the blogs and websites that have this ability. In a later announcement Google added:

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

On the technology blog Alt1040, Javier Lacort wonders if it really is an underused and costly service, and he qualifies [es] the move as:

un movimiento sorprendente dada la cantidad de usuarios que usan este servicio diariamente. Por otro lado, lo cierto es que llevaban mucho tiempo sin actualizar el servicio, e incluso retirándole funcionalidades, como los Share o los Me gusta. [...] El problema es que a veces Google hace movimientos bastante difíciles de comprender. Sobre todo, de un tiempo a esta parte, cuando se basan en potenciar el uso de Google+ a cualquier precio. En este caso, con el cierre de Google Reader, despidiéndose de uno de los servicios más usados en el día a día por muchísimos usuarios. Y lo que es peor, obligando a estos mismos usuarios a despedirse de él.

a surprising move given the number of people who use this service daily. On the other hand, it is true that it has been a long time since they have updated the service, and they were even taking away functions, such as Share or Like. [...] The problem is that sometimes Google makes moves that are pretty hard to understand. Above all recently, when they have been based on increasing the use of Google+ at any price. In this case, with the close of Google Reader, it is saying goodbye to one of the services most used in the day-to-day of users. And what is worse is forcing these same users to say goodbye to it.

But is it true that it is a service that is in decline? In Geek's Room they republish [es] a report from Buzzfeed Network that shows that Google Reader produces many more references than Google+ (to talk about products from the same company), which can be seen in the following graph:

google-referralsEnrique Dans calls Google Reader an irreplaceable tool, even though he makes it clear that he does not think it is a mass product, but one that is directed at users that are “advanced in their relationship with information”, and he wonders [es] about its viability in the times of social networks:

Enterarse de noticias a través de Facebook o de Twitter resulta cada vez más habitual. Sin embargo, pensar en sustituir Reader con alguna de estas herramientas supone enfrentarse a un entorno muchísimo menos eficiente, que depende de procesos de descubrimiento social. Frente a disponer de las fuentes en un formato sencillo y accesible inmediatamente, es sencillamente otra cosa: una posibilidad para quienes “se encuentran” con las noticias, pero no para quienes “vamos a buscarlas”.

Finding out about news through Facebook or Twitter is becoming more and more common. However, to think of substituting Reader with one of these tools means facing an environment that is much less efficient, that relies on the processes of social discovery. When you have the sources available to you in a format that is simple and immediately accessible, it is simply something different: a possibility for those who “find themselves” with the news, but not for those who “are looking for it”.

The user community has not taken Google's announcement passively, and a petition on Change.org with more than 141,555 signatures asking for the service to not be closed is proof of it.

Cony Sturm comments [es] on Fayerwayer that other services that depended on Google Reader, like FeedDemon, also announced their close because of their dependence on the Google system. He also translated into Spanish a part of the petition letter by Daniel Lewis directed at Google by way of Change.org:

Nuestra confianza en los demás productos de Google – Gmail, YouTube, y sí, incluso Plus – requiere que confiemos en que ustedes respetarán cómo y por qué usamos sus otros productos. Esto no es sólo sobre los datos en Reader. Esto es sobre nosotros usando sus productos porque los amamos, porque hacen mejores a nuestras vidas, y porque confiamos en que no los destruirán”, afirma. “Por favor, no destruyan esa confianza”

“Our confidence in Google's other products – Gmail, YouTube, and yes, even Plus – requires that we trust you in respecting how and why we use your other products. This isn't just about our data in Reader. This is about us using your product because we love it, because it makes our lives better, and because we trust you not to nuke it”, he writes. “So, please don't destroy that trust.”

But in case this is not successful, we must look at alternatives, like Bárbara Pavan does on Bitelia, where she publishes [es] a list with 10 alternatives to Google Reader (Pavan also shares a shorter list that is more current).

In fact, some companies like Digg have announced [es] that they will replicate the service. And even if Google closes its feed reader, that does not mean the death of the format, to whose creation the recently deceased Aaron Swartz contributed.

What is made obvious once again is that the interests of the users are not the same as those of the company, and, as Enrique Dans says in the previously cited article:

Con el cierre de Google Reader, Google muestra su peor cara: la del desprecio absoluto a sus usuarios. La de la empresa de la que jamás te puedes fiar. Algunos ven el cierre como inevitable, pero retirar una herramienta con una base de usuarios tan fiel sin proponer siquiera un reemplazo digno de ser tenido en consideración es una manera de demostrar que esos usuarios te traen completamente sin cuidado, que no te preocupan lo más mínimo.

With the close of Google Reader, Google is showing its dark side: that of complete disregard for its users. That of a company in which you can never trust. Some see the closing as inevitable, but taking away a tool with such a faithful user base without even proposing a replacement worthy of consideration is a way of showing that those users do not concern you, that you are not worried about them in the slightest.

Don't be evil.

Original post published in Juan Arellano's blog Globalizado [es].

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