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In killing Google Reader, Google are killing openness

I was never a Google Reader user. Should have been but chose to consume my news the hard way with a spazmodic mix of bookmarks, Evernote, twitter, and other websites I can barely remember. Now I use Flipboard but question its efficiency even though it is very pretty.

Google reader was built on  RSS, an open technology that makes it easy for publishers to syndicate content and readers to consume content. When Google announced they were retiring Google reader saying, “usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products.” 150,000 irate users signed a petition asking Google not to kill a product that had become a core part of their Internet experience. Yesterday, Google turned the lights off Google Reader offering a page with a cheery headline “Thanks for stopping by” with a link to some alternatives.

Clearly the Google Reader product has no part in  Google’s strategy to dominate how consumers find content and compete with Facebook through Google+.  As this brilliant post from  Marco Arment points out Google+, Facebook, Twitter are closed networks whereas RSS is completely open – no one owns it. Centralising how folks consume the Internet into their own networks is a core part of how Google aim to grow and it is pretty scary. The democratic nature of the Internet is threatened by global behemoths battling it out to own everything, to see everything, and soon, to predict everything.

Regardless of the politics I do admire Google’s focus on executing their strategy. Being smart, they recognise  Google Reader (and the soon to be killed external keyword tool) are products with a reasonable user-base that do not help them execute their strategy to own everything (and kill Facebook). This means a few users may be a little upset but they are likely geeks and geeks are not Google’s core audience. Geeks do not help Google pay the bills.

As a Product Manager, this is an important reminder of the importance of making sure my products support the business strategy and to be ruthless if they don’t.

But that’s just business.

As a fan of an open Internet where creativity, disruption, and innovation can flourish I am a little fearful that the box is getting smaller, darker, and a little more predictable.

The answer is to keep thinking outside the box. To challenge the norms. To reward the crazy thinkers, developers, and dreamers.

 

Image Credit: clogwog

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