Google has stopped caring about us. Some people might disagree. Some people might say Google never cared about us, but I like to be a little bit more optimistic. I like to believe that at some point Google truly wanted to make the web better. Google built a better search engine. They created a better email application. They started Google Labs, a place where the clever programmers at their company could place interesting applications and see if people liked them. In most cases they did these things with no clear idea of how to make money off of them. Money was secondary to creating great tools for their users.
Those days of benevolence, if they ever existed, have long passed. Google Labs was killed off in 2011. Google’s flagship search engine is cluttered and clogged with ads and results from enormous corporate sites more dedicated to search engine optimization than to content.
One by one the things that were truly great about Google have disappeared. This month, to that sad list of once great tools Google has killed, you can add Google Reader. They explained the reasons in a terse blog entry.
“There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and 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.”
This statement reflects everything that has gone wrong with Google. To begin with, while usage of Google Reader certainly has declined, it is still an enormously popular tool. Additionally, the reasons for Google Reader’s declining audience come primarily because Google has consistently reduced its capabilities and neglected cries from Reader’s very devoted followers for new features.
The second line of their reasoning is particularly laughable. The customer experience with Google products has done nothing but declined over the years as Google has grown more and more desperate to monetize its various products. The Google landscape is littered with ads, and those ads have grown increasingly flashy, ugly and intrusive.
It is monetization, not customer experience, that killed Google Reader. The ads on Google reader always performed poorly. The reason for this was simple. The people who used Google Reader were smart. Setting up your Google Reader account wasn’t rocket science but it did require a little work and thought. This meant that its users, were more intelligent than average, or at the very least were more Internet savvy. Smart people are much less likely to click on an ad than dumb people. On its search engine especially, Google relies on a certain number of people believing that the ads are actual search results. With Google Reader, and newsreaders in general, the audience consists of the sort of people who know when they are being sold to.
I am all for Google making a profit. I use their ad service, and I am happy to see their deposits come into my account every month. I have no intention of stopping that. The problem is that Google has ceased to be a source of experimentation and inspiration. They are now just another giant corporation looking to make a buck. That makes them no worse than most companies, it just means that they are no longer better than most companies. They have raced to the middle, and that makes me a little sad.
For me the death of Google Reader is a real reason to worry, not because of any direct impacts, but because of what it says about how Google treats its users. I can do without Google Reader. I moved my RSS feeds to Outlook and they are perfectly usable there. By design, most of my site’s subscribers get their feeds through email rather than a reader, so I won’t lose much traffic. The problem is that over the years I’ve started using a number of Google products that simply don’t make money. Tools such as Feedburner, Google Forms, Google Wiki and even Google Drive are poor money makers. More importantly, most of them have a lot fewer users than Google Reader. How many of these cool little tools are going to be eliminated in the name of improving user experience?
I feel as if I am going to have to divest myself of Google products, not because I want to but because I can’t trust them to be there for me (except for Adsense of course) and the sooner I find alternatives, the safer I will be.