Earlier this week, Google announced it would do away with Google Reader, an RSS and news aggregation application launched way back in 2005.
In a blog post, Alan Green, a software engineer at Google, blamed the demise of Reader on declining usership numbers – not particularly surprising in an age when a whole lot of folks get their news through social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
"We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too," Mr. Green wrote, adding that "as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience."
But Green may not have anticipated exactly how "sad" people would get.
"If Google won't keep Google Reader alive, then let's get them to open source the code and we will run it ourselves!" reads text posted to KeepGoogleReader.com. "Who is with me?" More than 30,000 users have already registered their dissent.
Meanwhile, a "keep Google Reader running" petition posted to Change.org garnered more than 100,000 signatures in two days.
"Our confidence in Google's other products – Gmail, YouTube, and yes, even Plus – requires that we trust you in respecting how and why we use your other products," that petition reads. "This isn't just about our data in Reader. This is about us using your product because we love it, because it makes our lives better, and because we trust you not to nuke it."
Perhaps the most scathing criticism of Google's decision to power down reader came from a freelance journalist named Rupert Goodwins, who penned an acerbic column for the Guardian. Google, Goodwins fears, is shifting its focus away from Reader in part because the platform isn't particularly profitable (as opposed to Google+, which he says can be more easily used to sell advertising).
Google exists, it says, to encourage everyone to use the internet. It isn't in the business of supporting small groups of specialists, except through general purpose tools. But by angering and disenfranchising the very people who keep the internet fruitful and productive, it is poisoning its own fields – and those of others. It betrays itself as not understanding that "social" isn't just about numbers, it's about people – people who might be hard to sell advertising to, but who create the conditions in which advertising can work.
The big question, of course, is whether Google is going to pay heed to all the criticism. The Next Web has called the petitions "pointless," and predicted that Google will stand by the cancellation of Reader. Google might have been able to avoid a mild racket, but the reaction to Reader's shuttering is more of an uproar.
It's not an exact analogue, but it may be useful to look back at the firestorm faced in 2010 by Facebook. Users were upset about sweeping privacy changes; petitions were distributed and signed; Facebook was swamped with angry messages; and eventually, the social network "drastically simplified" its privacy settings. So there is power in the outrage of the crowds.
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