The Reader debacle and a possible Google sized problem in mountain view

RSS is dead! Flipboard, Zite, Currents, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ all of them have evolved upon the functionality the requirement of RSS. While this sentiment may be true for discovering new feeds, these services are not a replacement for the core functionality of RSS feeds. Serving new articles reliably from subscriptions. I know this because as a research scholar nothing other than Reader serves my purpose of following latest scientific articles published in the various journals. I also know it to be the linchpin in the workflow of almost every editor of esteemed scientific journals. Google not innovating this platform and now abandoning it seems echo what Intel did with the ARM architecture or Microsoft did with Windows Mobile platform. Both have come back to haunt the respective two stalwarts.

RSS is not dead, and pronouncing it dead might be premature and potentially deleterious

With Reader, Google had made a serendipitous social network. One that they choose to dispose off in the fall of 2011. It caused an uproar in the niche but loyal user base. However, the negative impacts were offset by the fact that Google redesigned the web interface. Then when Google+ was introduced, the message became clear. We are building this hyper connected social web which is supposed to be the next definition of social web 2.0. Underneath all that charm though, was the intention to centralise the web around Google. That aligned Google+ directly against Facebook and Twitter. The problems were manifold. It was confusing and creepy for many who were not open to twitteresque sharing, not realising that it was an option. "Why does Facebook alternative have public followers which I can't prevent?" was the sentiment of many. It lacked a clear demarcation between public and private sharing. A google engineer himself admitting that it was a failure. All Google+ did was to serve evolutionary ideas to a stagnating Facebook and other services and convey to it's users that they are being forced to share their personal searches to the public. Facebook now had better photo viewer and circles became groups, all of which added to the comfort of its users. This though was an iterative phenomena. Wave should have essentially been collaborative document editing feature in Google Docs and not an alternative to email/Gmail. Hangouts seems to make more sense integrated with Google Talk. In doing these google ensured that Google+ failed as an alternative for Faebook/Twitter just like Wave had failed as an alternative for email. Lets face it, each of these had are too big to have direct replacements. But then again I digress. Bottomline, the ethos of the fledgling Reader community is what Google+ has come to be. It would have been much healthier to have made this logical progression an amicable one rather than the chaotic one it turned out to be.

The ethos of the fledgling Reader community is what Google+ has come to be

While mulling over the current scenario the now fabled All Things D interview of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs springs to mind. Steve Jobs said,

"...there were too many people at Apple and in the Apple ecosystem playing the game of, for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose. And it was clear that you didn't have to play that game because Apple wasn't going to beat Microsoft. Apple didn't have to beat Microsoft"

Microsoft was too big for Apple to beat in that exact game. It needed a paradigm shift to occur and capitalise upon it. Remember how Microsoft came to rule the Office space? Here's how in Bill Gates' own words from the same interview.

"...and then Mitch did an incredible job betting on the IBM PC and 1-2-3 came in and, you know, ruled that part of the business. So the question was, what was the next paradigm shift that would allow for an entry? We had Word, but WordPerfect was by far the strongest in word processing dBase database...So we made this bet that the paradigm shift would be graphics interface and, in particular, that the Macintosh would make that happen...So it was..."

And So it was for office, and later for the iPhone and iPad which has taken Apple to where it is now. Somehow, Google management did not grasp this simple law of nature. Of all the products that Google had, Reader's social layer epitomised this potential paradigm shift. A social network based on common interest. The logical progression of an infantile social web to a more mature one.

Reader's social layer epitomised this potential paradigm shift. A social network based on common interest

All of this is indicative of a burgeoning group leading its social platform. Instead of observing the trend and "skating where the puck will be" they seem to be skating elegantly to where the puck has been. This is a problem. I am not suggesting that this is a problem for Google as a whole. Android, Chrome, Google Now development would suggest otherwise. However, given the fact that the internet seems to be progressing towards a predominantly social structure, it might present Google with a problem of epic proportions. Just ask RIM/Blackberry. There might also be a more damning repercussion. The primary problem after today's announcement is that we don't have sophisticated APIs for aggregating feeds matching Google's proprietary ones. A mature and responsible approach would have been to have at least open sourced the APIs. For a company which made itself synonymous with "Do No Evil", this may have major ramifications upon how the public perceives it. Remember how people are distrustful of sharing data with Facebook, but not to that extent with Google? This is something Google can not afford itself to be.

This is indicative of a burgeoning group leading its social platform, skating elegantly to where the puck has been, something Google can not afford

In retrospect, the death of Google Reader might be a blessing in disguise for RSS feeds in general, as many are suggesting. Groups interested in building upon RSS feed legacy like Digg, Feedly might be now freed to innovate vigorously upon it and realising its true potential. But it might be the thing that google will come to rue in the long run, like Intel and Microsoft did with their respective passes.