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Posted at 02:49 PM ET, 03/14/2013

Google Reader’s death sentence and the fear of what’s next


Attendees sits in front of a Google logo during Google I/O Conference at Moscone Center in San Francisco in this June 28, 2012 file photo. (STEPHEN LAM - REUTERS)

Google Reader users really don’t like the search giant’s decision to do away with the service.

The company announced in a blog post Wednesday that it would be undertaking “a second spring cleaning,” which includes retiring the popular Google Reader product on July 1. In total, Google will have retired 70 features or services since 2011.

“While [Google Reader] has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined,” wrote Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of technical infrastructure and Google Fellow. “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.”

But that hasn’t mollified all users, some of whom are so angry they are taking to the Web to petition that the company keep the popular service up and running. The petition platform, Change.org, has at least seven separate petitions — one with over 66,000 signatures as of the writing of this post — requesting that Google, well, not kill Reader. According to Change.org, at one point 17 percent of the site’s traffic was directed to that petition, which has been viewed over 222,000 times. That’s probably because the petition does more than call on Google to keep Reader alive. It expresses fear over whether Google would be willing to kill other popular products in its ecosystem.

That petition was written by Dan Lewis, a lawyer and Director of New Media Communication for the Sesame Workshop — yes, that Sesame Workshop — and author of the e-mail newsletter “Now I Know.” Lewis described how the company’s willingness to eliminate Reader undermined users’ confidence in its product suite:

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. 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. ... So, please don’t destroy that trust. You’re a huge corporation, with a market cap which rivals the GDP of nations. You’re able to dedicate 20% of your time to products which may never seen the light of day. You experiment in self-driving cars and really cool eyewear which we trust (trust!) you’ll use in a manner respectful to our needs, interests, etc. Show us you care. Don’t kill Google Reader.

Lewis declined to be interviewed regarding the petition. Meanwhile, a Google spokesperson said the company will be reaching out directly to users as the changes are implemented, but had no additional comment outside of Hölzle’s blog post.

The decision and reaction present an interesting look at the role fear can play in the innovation process. The reason Google is eliminating Reader, among its other services, is, as Hölzle writes, to keep the company from being spread to thin and eroding its ability to make “impact.” But, eliminating services in order to innovate and create new ones can, instead, prime users to think that nothing the company creates is sacred, diminishing consumers’ desire to trust and invest time in future products.

On the other hand, keeping the decks clean can usher in the development of new products that stand to become even more popular and break more ground. After all, Google has come a long way in product development since Reader was developed (talking shoes anyone?). Google Reader users are not alone when it comes to experiencing frustration over a retiring product. Users of the first generation iPad have been going without support from Apple since the launch of iOS 6 in September. But, just as there was a silver lining for iPad 1 users, there’s likely one for Reader users as well.

Technologists always seem to find a way to, as Tim Gunn so often says, “make it work.”

The author’s brother works for Google, but not on the Reader project.

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

The cathedral and the bazaar

Tim Berners-Lee on the making of new worlds

How to be a ‘wonder junkie’

SXSW 2013 in Leaps and Beams

By  |  02:49 PM ET, 03/14/2013

 
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