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Bill Bennett


Sometimes free is too high a price

Google ReaderGoogle says it is closing Google Reader because of declining use.

The company doesn’t make any money from its free web-based RSS reader, so its death doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, Google is a business, not a charity.

RSS is vital. Like thousands of other journalists, I rely on Google Reader to check online news. It has been the best tool for that job for a long time. Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools simply don’t compare for this kind of work. RSS feeds are comprehensive lists, social media tends to give a fleeting snapshot.

There are other RSS tools, none of them works as well as Google Reader. It has the best interface for quickly scanning large numbers of posts, it has decent search tools built-in.

If Google started charging for Google Reader, I’d happily pay. It would be worth the fee.

There’s a disturbing side to Google’s decision to shut Google Reader. Before Reader there was a healthy set of competing RSS readers. One by one these fell by the wayside because they were unable to compete with the search giant’s free service.

Google entered the space, wiped out the competition and now it is leaving the space.



11 thoughts on “Sometimes free is too high a price

  1. Great post, Bill. One of my mentor’s favorite expressions was, “Cheap is dear.” The Google Reader episode gives that old adage new meaning. Keep up the good work. Gordon

  2. I had an amazing (in theory) idea for Google:
    Sort out Google+ into two feeds; news and social.
    Social is anything not tied to an article or current event (What I did for lunch, my opinions on Led Zeppelin etc).
    News is where they aggregate feeds and merge in social share relating and +1’s. So for example, the closing of Reader comes up like 50 times (not even kidding) in my stream, those would all be aggregated into article links and comment threads by people. By using your RSS feeds as a source for what to base it’s cards on should make it easier (plus learning from you saying ‘ye’ or ‘nay’ on aggregated posts) to know what to make a news item.
    Do it!

  3. I use gReader to star items which IFTTT picks up and puts those items into Pocket for reading later. My ideal workflow is to have a convenient button in gReader to open in the browser (They kinda do but you gotta open the item first, you can’t do it from the list). But in practice this doesn’t work as I can easily get > 100 tabs open before going to read them (I do sweeps of sorting then reading, not one-at-a-time).

  4. I see this as unfortunate, but from my use case it’s not impossible to find an alternative. From what I’ve read it seems to have good social integration for sharing news you find worthy to different networks which will be harder functionality to replace.
    As I said, it’s unfortunate, but this is how it goes sometime and they’ve given us months to do it.

  5. “There are other RSS tools, none of them work as well as Google Reader.”

    Rubbish – Feedly is, IMHO, streets ahead of Google Reader in usability and features. I can get it via the Web or as an App – happy man.

    And for the Google Listen podcasts that hung off Reader – Pocket Casts is turning out to be a well worthwhile purchase.

    1. Feedly has some of the worst usability I have seen. It’s all about how you use programs and is subjective. (To me not having any damn visual clues about what you’re supposed to do and no context menu makes you a bad app)

    2. Following the Google announcement I read several articles that recommended Feedly, so I checked it out on my on my Nexus 7. Its pretty unintuitive, though it looks nice and once I get the hang of it, I may stay with it.

      But I agree with your thoughts about Google Reader. I have had it for a long time, but I don’t like actually _using_ it. It’s pretty horrible. I just have it for finding and grabbing feeds in the first place. Many other newsreaders are able to import Google Reader feeds. For actual reading I far prefer River of News on my iPad and Taptu or Google Currents on my Nexus 7.

      I’m sure that by 1 July, those and other good reader apps will have alternative ways of grabbing RSS feeds. Here’s hoping RSS itself continues to exist…

      1. “Here’s hoping RSS itself continues to exist…”

        That echoes my biggest fear. I worry Google may have killed the technology along with its own product.

      2. I don’t fear that at all. RSS is useful, and most people will move to other RSS readers. The real fear will be if individual sites decide not to do RSS. I know things like torrents are very awesome on RSS (Need a Java update? You used to be able to have it automatically download via torrent from an RSS feed)


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