Does Google understand the concept of corporate social responsibility? That seems to be the basic question around the company’s strange decision to shut down a tiny service that serves as a major audience conduit for many thousands of bloggers, citizen journalists, and self publishers.
Google’s announcement today that it is destroying Google Reader, the most popular RSS syndication tool was a massive blow to the blogging community – and to most of those speaking out tonight via social media, an entirely unnecessary attack on an important corner of the public Internet by a company with more than $50 billion in revenue and a newly-won reputation as a tech giant on the move.
“That giant “NOOOOOOOO” sound is the Internet’s reaction to Google’s most unpopular decision in — well, as far back as I can remember,” wrote Pete Cashmore at Mashable, in a post emblematic of the flood of negative reaction to Google’s strange decision. “Like a Dagger to Bloggers’ Hearts, Google Just Killed Google Reader” read The Atlantic’s headline. And NBC’s Ann Currytweeted this:
— Ann Curry (@AnnCurry) March 14, 2013
While some may argue that RSS feeds (for Real Simple Syndication) have fallen from common usage in the social media era, how would Google explain the huge, instantaneous response on Twitter from Google Reader users? “Google Reader” trended almost immediately and instantly replace Google Glass as the most talked about Google product on Twitter. Here’s one of the calmer, more considered tweets:
Google is murdering Google Reader. It is committing appicide. Hate crime. NO GR, NO PEACE
— Jim Aley (@jimaley) March 14, 2013
Even hard-core Google fans (and this writer is an Android user who runs his consulting practice on Google’s platform for files, email, and calendar) were aghast at the lack of self awareness the company seemed to exhibit in its curt notice that it’s axing Google Reader in July. Here’s a typical reaction:
You know how bad the Google Reader outrage is? Even the Google apologists on G+ are pissed. I’ve only seen a handful of Google defenders
Oddly, the company didn’t seem aware of the firestorm its announcement would create. On the official Google Reader Blog, engineer Alan Green wrote: “We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too.”
Outrage is more like it. Green wrote that usage had “declined” but any entrepreneur with the kind of loyalty demonstrated in the wake of Reader’s announced shutdown would instantly be financed by a horde of venture capitalists. In short, Google Reader is used and loved by a very loud – and as some would no doubt say, very influential – core user group. Any app builder would kill for this following – any social entrepreneur would walk a thousand miles for this crowd.
And make no mistake, Google Reader is something of an important public accommodation, a real point of differentiation for a company whose motto is “don’t be evil.” Google was doing a public service for the news and blogger community by keeping Reader going. Understandably, the Reader shutdown was received not just as the end of an era but almost as an attack on those who count on it for traffic and attention. Over at Techcrunch, Sarah Perez had this reaction: “Don’t be evil? If that’s the unofficial Google motto, then the company has failed to deliver today. Among the products Google just announced it plans to sunset (read: kill off), beloved feed-reading service Google Reader is now on the chopping block.”
Longtime bloggers like Lance Mannion (a friend and colleague) were melancholy. “I’m not sure but I think it’s going to cost me about 200 readers,” Lance tweeted at me. Bloggers like Mannion don’t enjoy hordes of readers because they’re independents. They prefer a loyal core readership and the communities they’ve built, and managed to keep despite the challenge ofFacebook and Twitter.
Google’s strangely tone deaf move could mean huge upside for others, however – if RSS survives the hit. Here’s what Josh Levy (and many others) wrote about that opportunity.
The loss of Google Reader is a big opportunity – and reminder – to step away from Google and support more indie developers like @feedly
— Joshua Levy (@levjoy) March 14, 2013