Saying goodbye to Google Reader and hard lessons about free services

Credit: Joshua Rappeneker via Flickr

Google kicked me and a lot of journalists and analysts in the teeth yesterday when it announced it was shutting down its RSS reader, Google Reader. I'm sure other than those of us who do research for a living, the RSS reader was a quaint vestige of an earlier time, but for those of us who rely on it, it was gut-wrenching blow, as the cries of outtrage on Twitter last night attest.

I can tell you that I spend a fair amount of time inside Google Reader on a daily basis following tech trends. My favorite feeds are Techmeme and MLB Trade Rumors, which gives you a sense of my interests, but I also have folders of feeds for social media, cell phones, content management and more. I rely on this organized (OK, somewhat organized) central location of feeds to see what's going on in the world. Other than Evernote, it is one of the most important tools for me in my journalist's arensal, and I and my fellow journalists are going to be hard-pressed to find a replacement.

Before I consider what to do next -- I have until July 1st unless Google relents or open sources the code -- it got me thinking about what my friend and colleague Tom Henderson has been saying for some time. Relying on free services for essential tools is fool-hearty, especially when Google is involved. Google proved yesterday that it cares little about an obviously passionate set of users if it doesn't fit in with their plans or their bottom line.

But you have to wonder about a company that is trying to sell a vision of computing in ChromeOS in which you live inside of Google Services all day long -- a vision by the way that I've quite liked on some levels -- how anyone can rely on this type of computing model when Google could decide tomorrow it's bored or it's not profitable or its vision has changed.

Not that I've ever really trusted any computer company the size of Google, but I have to admit I've relied heavily on its services, but this announcement has driven home a hard lesson. You can't count on free services, especially when a profit-driven and -- let's face it -- somewhat fickle company is behind them.

But if you do, don't be surprised when the company turns around and kicks you in the teeth like Google did yesterday -- and that goes for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. You just never know when they are going to decide that what they're doing doesn't fit the new vision and it's adios amigo, thanks for playing, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Google did it to me yesterday, but it could be any service, any time. Paying for a service doesn't guarantee a company is going to keep it in place either, but it seems that if you pay a fee, it's more likely to respect its user base, then if it's giving it to you for nothing.

This post originally appeared on By Ron Miller, the author's personal blog.

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