Google Reader Fallout Hits Keep

People won’t shut up about Google’s termination of its essential Reader service. Ed Bott’s Embrace, extend, extinguish documents Google’s successful promotion of Reader as a universal RSS back-end, eventually forcing BlogLines to shut down and NewsGator to abandon its consumer business. The promotion continued until those two significant competitors were defeated, in September 2010. Just one year later, Google announced its intention to “bring Reader and Google+ closer together,” hinting none too subtly that those who don’t like Google+ should probably take their data and leave. Another 18 months later, the death of the service was announced in the “spring cleaning” of 2013.

Note to Google partners: If you hear the word “cleaning,” your business is the trash that’s being taken out. […]
What’s fascinating now is that the entire RSS industry is being rolled back to about 2006 and asked to start over. All those clients that relied on Google’s sync engine? They’re back at Square One.

Earlier in the week, Marco Arment had written an excellent essay on the same subject. The free products and services that abound in the software industry, offered both by huge monopolists like Google and countless small startups, would be outlawed as predatory pricing in other industries. They destroy sustainable businesses, leaving customers stranded with no alternatives.

And we lucked out with Reader — imagine how much worse it would be if website owners weren’t publishing open RSS feeds for anyone to fetch and process, but were instead posting each item to a proprietary Google API. We’d have almost no chance of building a successful alternative.
That’s Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. (Does the shutdown make more sense now?)
The best thing we can do isn’t necessarily to try to pay for everything, which is unrealistic and often not an option. Our best option is to avoid supporting and using proprietary monocultures.

How much goodwill did Google lose here? Some initial reactions to the new Google Keep service are instructive. Evidently intended to compete with EverNote and Microsoft OneNote, Keep synchronizes text notes over Google’s Drive cloud storage. Why start a free service of dubious relevance, right after shutting down another because it supposedly wasn’t popular or important enough? I think the obvious answer is that Keep locks users into Google services (via Drive), unlike the open Atom/RSS protocols on which Reader relies. Be that as it may, James Fallows isn’t interested:

Until I know a reason that it’s in Google’s long-term interest to keep Keep going, I’m not going to invest time in it or lodge info there. The info could of course be extracted or ported somewhere else — Google has been very good about helping people rescue data from products it has killed — but why bother getting used to a system that might go away? And I don’t understand how Google can get anyone to rely on its experimental products unless it has a convincing answer for the “how do we know you won’t kill this?” question.

Ezra Klein likewise sees Google’s trust problem. After Reader, he no longer wants to be one of those early adopters who would “rush to download their new apps, try them out, offer feedback, and, ultimately, proselytize to their friends.” Om Malik is more direct: Sorry Google; you can Keep it to yourself.

It might actually be good, or even better than Evernote. But I still won’t use Keep. You know why? Google Reader.

In response, Marco Arment once again reminds us that all services could suddenly disappear. Being locked into a proprietary monoculture just makes it worse when it happens.

This is why it’s so important to keep as much of your data as possible in the most common, widespread, open-if-possible formats, in local files that you can move, copy, and back up yourself. And if you care about developing a long-lasting online audience or presence, you’re best served by owning your identity as much as possible.

Personally, I’d be lying if I claimed to pass on Keep because of Reader. I’m rather happy with Evernote, I was never that fond of Google, and I adopted Reader itself only because there was no realistic alternative. In retrospect I might as well not have bothered! The important thing is not what happens with Keep, but that Reader’s demise has hopefully made people more aware of the importance of standards and diversification.

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