Google Reader

Google Reader is being shut down. You may have heard.

Some might say it died back in Nov 2011. That was when sharing functionality was modified to support Google+ 1, effectively shutting down countless informal networks. It wasn’t something I was using, not extensively enough to mind at least, but I understood. Understood enough that I only made a little fun of the individuals who popped up promising to rewrite Google Reader.

But now it is really really going. And it’s a shame.

Dave Winer said he doesn’t care because he never used it. He didn’t trust Google, which is fair enough. Cino knows I don’t trust them much. He also didn’t like the “mailbox approach to news”, which strikes me as limited view of what Google Reader was. As much as it was a news aggregator, albeit one with a UI Winer had no time for, it was also a syncing tool for reader. Whether you used the web interface from multiple sites, or you read your news in an applications using the undocumented, unofficial Reader APIs, Google knew what you had read. Great for those of us with multiple modes of accessing our feeds.

He also advised that we should pay for the services we depend on. It’s a common theme, hand in hand with the maxim “If you’re not paying, you’re the product”. It’s powered by the assumption that companies treat you better if you are paying them. I know I pay my bank a lot of money, both directly and indirectly, and they have never felt any compunction not to treat me with a kind of benign contempt. They even as much as accused my wife of lying when she reported her credit card details stolen and a charge illegitimate. My telco treats me badly, my insurance agency will do everything in their power to wriggle out of claims, and Cityrail is the single worst service company I have ever had the pleasure of giving $50 a week.

Consistently the best service I have is at whatever coffee shop I am a regular at. They know my name, they know my order, some of them have known my wife’s name despite her never setting foot in their establishment. The nature of the business almost compels you to make a personal connection with them. But the single best instance of good service I ever had was from a lady running a small online store who bent over backwards to help me out the first time I bought something from her. She cared about her reputation but she also just gave a shit about her business and her customers.

It’s more than money, it’s how valued you are. Maybe you are valued because margins are low, or because they need your custom. Maybe it’s because you are face to face with them. Maybe they are just really nice people. I doubt paying a couple of dollars to Maciej Ceglowski a few years ago was enough to buy good service for as long as Pinboard operates, and if you do you can’t think much of him. No, I think I will get good service because he gives a shit. Companies like Twitter and Google and Facebook and Instagram will do things you don’t like, such as change terms and conditions, or shut down services, because they don’t give a shit about our reaction. Not enough people will stop using their service, or their other services.

People were certainly paying money to Yahoo for Flickr Pro accounts, and while it didn’t shut down, until quite recently it was coasting along treating its paying customers with a species of disinterested contempt.

People are upset because they found out a company that was once a fairly hoopy place now no longer gives a shit. It should be a shock to the system to find out you’re not valued. Those who are standing aside smugly tweeting about “outraged entitlement” - one comment which seems representative of the theme 2 - simply haven’t introspective enough to think about what will happen when a service they rely on disappears on them, or just believe it won’t happen because, oh, they pay money. If you think paying some monthly fee will protect you when you’re one amongst a million…well you’re a fool.

Of course, to be fair, maybe they just rolled their own everything. In which case, they simply don’t even know what they are talking about.

What now then? I saw a few people shifting to The Old Reader and I’ve had a look, but somewhat unsurprisingly they’re under attack from Google Reader refugees. I’m also looking at Feedly, because they claim they have built and deployed a clone of the Google Reader API and that sounds interesting, something worth supporting. But I’ll also grab an OPML copy of all my subscriptions.

1. If you’d pressed me to answer without looking it up, I would have said it was mid-2012.

2. Possibly revealing more about the speaker than the subject.

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