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Paul Bonner: After Google Reader, How Can Anyone Trust a Google App?

Written by Paul Bonner

Paul Bonner minces no words. Google killed Reader and betrayed millions of users in the process. Here’s why he is so damned mad.

aNewDomain.net — When a friend recently asked me why I trusted Google more than Facebook, I told him. It’s because Facebook overtly violates the trust of its users time and time again. But Google, for all its faults, didn’t have the same record of abusing its users.

That was then. Now, in the wake of Google’s announcement that it will shut down Google Reader, my answer would be different. I don’t care why Google did it. I no longer see any reason to trust Google — either as a company or as a supplier of services.

google-reader-hell-fire-bonner-wikimedia-commons

Update: Two independent sources tell aNewDomain.net that Google cut Reader because of a lack of internal interest in the project, which basically was a one-man show with little support behind him. We await Google comments on the matter.

The decision that I and countless millions of Google users made daily —  to treat its services as reliable building blocks for personal and professional information management strategies and solid foundations for our daily work routines — now seems just foolish.

An extreme reaction to the shuttering of Google Reader? As countless tech publications — including this one — have rushed to assure us, there are alternatives. True, but they’re only good stand-ins if what you’re after is limited to the ability to view updates from the last few days. And I’ve tried out most of the alternatives — mainly on my Android phones and tablets where the official Google Reader app felt embarrassingly dated and feature-starved for years.

Some of them, including Feedly, my personal favorite for that limited purpose, are even lovely to look at and enjoyable to use. But until one of those alternatives gives me the ability to instantly locate and view any article that has appeared in my Google Reader stream over the past six years from any of my nearly 600 feed subscriptions, don’t tell me that it can serve as a replacement for Google Reader. Because it can’t.

Like countless others, I took seriously the promise expressed in the October 2005 (Announcement) Google Reader on the Google Labs blog. It read, in part:

… we plan on keeping alive and kicking as long as there is stuff being syndicated …”

I believed. I incorporated Google Reader into my daily work patterns. I changed my reading habits to the point that Google Reader became the key building block in my personal news and information gathering strategy.

And now, suddenly, without ever even making a serious attempt to monetize Google Reader as a product, Google has elected to betray us all and break that promise.

In retrospect, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Maybe no one should be. This is far from the first time that Google has elected to betray the user communities that it has allowed -– no, encouraged -– to become reliant upon its services. In some cases, that betrayal took place through shutdowns like the one it plans now for Google Reader. Wikipedia maintains a great list of those — their numbers include Google’s many pre-Plus attempts at social media, like Google Wave, Buzz, Dodgeball, Aardvark, Jaiku, Google Labs, iGoogle and Google Desktop.

That last one was a personal search tool that I turned to 20 or 30 times a day and couldn’t imagine living without, until it disappeared on short notice in 2011.

In other cases, Google merely bastardized its ongoing services, including both Google News and its crown jewel, Google Search by gradually transforming the qualities that made them essential tools in the first place into ones that just further Google’s strategic goals at the expense of user benefit.

Check out this DuckDuckGo page for a great explanation of why Google News and Google Search don’t deliver what you probably think you’re getting any more.

What’s going on here?

I always thought of Google as the good guys – the company that would right all the wrongs perpetrated on computer users by such villains as Microsoft. Or other villians who care about nothing but maximizing profit and coldly herding users in the direction of their visions du jour. Say what you want about the guys in Redmond, but no document created in any version of MS Word has ever failed to open because Microsoft decided that supporting Word 95 documents was no longer essential to its strategic vision. And Windows 8 for what it’s worth, will run on almost any PC made in the last 10 years — though there are no guarantees on how well it will run.

When did Google start aiming lower than Microsoft?

Don’t count on Google’s services — or those of any free cloud vendor — to offer the same longevity. As Farhad Manjoo notes in a fantastic article on Slate, Google’s decision to kill Reader “… illustrates a terrible downside of cloud software: Sometimes your favorite, most indispensable thing just goes away.”

This is all about way more than the death of a great RSS reader. The decision to kill Google Reader calls into question the whole idea of anyone entrusting Google or any supplier of free cloud services with our email, our documents and our music libraries.

It makes crystal clear the folly of basing our work patterns and our information management strategies on those services.

Google has proven over and over again that it does not deserve that trust. I know it doesn’t deserve mine.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize that fact until Google killed Google Reader. Maybe a lot of us didn’t see it coming. And when a company is supplying popular tools free of charge, it’s easy to make excuses for it.

But this week’s Google Reader announcement made the company’s contempt for the investment users make in its services so obvious that I, for one, am not likely to make that mistake again. Go to hell, Google, but please don’t take  Google Reader with you. Don’t wipe those drives, the data they contain is the closest thing the web has to a Library of Congress. Turn it over to someone who will appreciate its value. Please. For your own sake. Doing the right thing here might commute your sentence to a few hundred centuries in Purgatory.

More Google Reader rants from our team at aNewDomain.net.

Google Reader is Dead, and Mock Hitler is Not Happy (parody video) posted by Gina Smith

Mike Olsen: Google Reader Alernatives: Feedly, Netvibes, Digg to Mend Your Broken Heart

Mike Olsen: RIP Google Reader: The End of Google Reader as We Know It, and I’m Not Fine

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Veteran, award-winning journalist Paul Bonner is also an IT pro, these days. Email Paul at Paul@aNewDomain.net, follow him @paul_bonner and on Google+ as +Paul Bonner. He promises to smile if you ever stop by to see him in Austin.

About the author

Paul Bonner

Based in Texas, Paul Bonner returns to tech coverage here at aNewDomain. An award-winning journalist and author renowned in the 1980s and 1990s for his work at such pubs as PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and Electronic Entertainment, he took a 15-year break from the biz and began a new life as a software developer specializing in web-based applications. His work here marks the end of that hiatus -- and he's back with a vengeance. Love his work? Hate it? Either way, follow him on Twitter @paul_bonner or as +Paul Bonner on Google+ (https://plus.google.com/u/0/108245244384733915421)

  • Richard Hay

    Well no need to sugar coat how you really feel

    • Paul Bonner

      Ha! Well actually, that was only about half of what I’m feeling. The raw half, obviously. I’ve also had some ideas of a more constructive nature about how Google could still fix this disaster of its own making, which I’ll share in a follow up if there’s any interest.

      • Madison Andrews

        @google-f61dace50709944022d6868ef925965e:disqus How could Google fix the ‘disaster of its own making’ without responding to petitions and keeping Reader alive as a product?

        • Paul Bonner

          That’s a great question. The fact is, the Google Reader application itself isn’t the most important thing here. It is far from the best RSS Reader available, and I’m convinced that any attempt to convince Google to keep it alive would be futile–maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

          What I care about is the Google Reader API, and the incredible databases behind it. Those are what let me subscribe to a feed today and immediately gain access to every article that the feed has published since Google first became aware of it.

          The Google Reader API and the databases behind it are treasures that the web community cannot allow to disappear.

          Announcing that they’re killing Google Reader may be the worst misstep in the company’s history, but Google’s management can still stop the bleeding if it does the right thing between now and July 1. I’ll describe exactly what I think “the right thing” is in an article here on aND in the next few days, and then I plan to do everything I can to organize all the Google Reader aficionados who have come out of the woodwork in the next week into making sure that Google management makes it happen.

  • Mike Lewis

    “When did Google start aiming lower than Microsoft?”

    This sums the situation up for me. I avoid Microsoft products because I feel like they’ve screwed me over as a customer one too many times. I happily fell into the ‘do no evil’ arms of Google, only to find Google cannot be trusted and do not care about their users. Why should I use any of their services in the future when they can simply shut them down in the next spring cleaning?

    • Paul Bonner

      Great comment Mike. I feel the same way. On the other hand, I signed into aND to comment using G+, and submitted my article using Gmail, and am viewing the site through Chrome. Clearly, cutting the cord isn’t easy. And anyway, I still have hope that the company can be persuaded to do the right thing here–which isn’t responding to the petition and keeping Google Reader alive as a product, because thwarted that way they’d clearly kill it again as soon as the fuss dies down. More on that in my next article on this subject…

  • dicksanchez

    like most Google products, it sucked and it won’t be missed. It joins wave, buzz and a whole cemetery of products except search and gmail

    • Paul Bonner

      Dick, I don’t think that I’d have written this article I agreed with you on that. Google Reader may have been neglected and unloved at Google, but it is a treasure that will leave the world more-than-a-bit poorer if it actually goes away.

  • antpruitt

    I’m finally over this. Took a lil’ while, tho’.