Why the Google Reader shutdown matters

Google | Forbes

Google's announcment that it will shut down its RSS aggregator Google Reader in July triggered a wave of grave-dancing on Twitter Wednesday night:


The glee people showed toward the demise of a product they don't use is actually a great argument for why Reader matters: While Twitter's a great window into the brains and reading lists of smart people the world over, news from smaller outlets or people with less pungent viewpoints has a harder time fighting to the surface.

Since so many journalists' jobs depend on how they process the information gushing toward them, the question of how one consumes information is an increasingly intimate one. But as Alex Kantrowitz writes, the execution order is a reminder that "we are still just the users, nothing more."

No matter how much work we put in to optimize our online presences, our tools and our experiences, we are still at the mercy of big companies controlling the platforms we operate on. When they don’t like what’s happening, even if we do, they can make whatever call they want. And Wednesday night, Google made theirs.

Google killed most of Reader's social features in 2011, a decision that outraged people who used it as a quiet social network (the fact that they called themselves "sharebros" probably didn't help their cause). It left Reader's core function -- organizing news from all over the place -- intact. A big issue is that many people see no viable alternative to Reader. Instapaper founder Marco Arment says "in the long run, trust me: this is excellent news":

We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.

But that's only great news if you don't agree that the service was already pretty much perfect.



You knew it was coming: Here's the "Downfall" version of Google Reader's death.

More: Google Reader lived on borrowed time: creator Chris Wetherell reflects (GigaOm) | Former Google Reader product manager confirms our suspicions: Its demise is all about Google+ (TNW) | Google Reader is dying, but we have five worthy alternatives (CNET) | Google Reader Is Shutting Down; Here Are the Best Alternatives (Lifehacker) | Google Reader, please don’t go — I need you to do my job (Paid Content) | Paul Bradshaw's spreadsheet comparing Reader alternatives

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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