Google Reader is a core element in news distribution on the Web - now it is dead as part of another spring cleaning operation. Should Google be allowed to manipulate the applications market in this way?
Google Reader has been a distraction from Google's main effort to build a community on the web, i.e. Google+. Now we know what Google intends to do with the service as announced in the Google Official Blog:
We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.
It is very nice that Google has made Google Takeout available so that users can export their data, but it was the least they could do. The real problem is where to move to? Despite lots of suggestions there is no single replacement for Reader. In addition, none of the possible replacements are stable enough either technically or financially to be good bets for the future. Some alternatives are already experiencing website instabilities because of the new interest that they are attracting - indicating that they don't have the capacity to do the job.
The result is that many Reader users have no idea where to move to.
There is also the fate of apps that made use of Reader's API to function. These will stop working when Reader is closed down. Aggregation app Feedly has claimed that it can offer a cloned API - but how long this will take is an unknown.
You can make the point that Reader was a free service and this is what you get if you rely on a free service, but the situation is more complicated than you might think.
Google distorted the RSS reader market by offering a single solution that satisfied most users. It also made it available as a website and as an Android application, meaning it was portable. So we have an application that is free and pretty good. As a result who in their right mind would build an alternative? Now Google drops the free service and tells its users that they are free to do whatever they like in the Reader app market that Google has distorted to the point of dysfunction.
The Google Reader community is small but it is also influential. Most news websites, I Programmer included, make a very heavy use of Google Reader and hence you can imagine the number of words being written about the subject - this news item included. Most are saying that they would be happy to pay Google to keep it running and if Google can't make a profit then they should sell or open source Reader.
Once again the important point is that this isn't just the withdrawal of a service that a company deems to be unprofitable; it is a manipulation of the market by a big company with the resources to do it.
To be clear: this is market manipulation of the sort that got Microsoft into trouble for giving away a browser with its OS. A big company with the resources to give away an application stifles the competition in the market. This is bad enough, but instead of taking a commercial way out, i.e. sell the product to a company that can make a profit out of it, or a benevolent way out, i.e. open source the code, Google simply pulls the plug.
It is a long time since we heard the "do no evil" motto from Google but this cannot be doing good.
Of course there are protests. Twitter and Google+ have large numbers of posts with the #savegooglereader, or just #googlereader, tags. There are also at least two petitions:
However, the chances of changing Google's mind over this is very slim when you take into account its past track record and its long term negative attitude towards Reader.