Sunday, March 17, 2013

The hard lesson of Google Reader

Google Reader logo
By Aaron Sherman

Google is learning some new lessons of late. Specifically, that the user base of a product doesn't map 1:1 to the impact that removing that product will have. In the case of Google Reader, the company's recent announcement that they'll be discontinuing the service in July first met with the usual round of "noooo! I use that!" from what few users the service still had after it was gutted to remove its social features and replace them with Google+.

That was probably no more or less than Google expected. But since then, there have been some interesting secondary effects:

In general, Google suddenly looks like an old-school company trying to relate to a user-base that it no longer understands. This is the problem with closing down existing product lines. What's more, the massive burst of interest seems to indicate that Reader had a much larger potential that it simply wasn't executing on. Not shocking, since the product has received almost no love from Google since its ill-fated social revamp that happened not long before G+ was announced. Once G+ got off the ground, those social features were stripped out of Reader and replaced with G+ features that were a pale comparison.

I doubt there's any going back, now. If Google saves Reader, they would have to dump resources into improving it or risk further backlash from an increased community of users. But the whole point of dumping Reader, according to Google, was to allow them to focus on fewer products.

But, even if Google doesn't save Reader, I think they need to learn from this lesson. A side note in a "spring cleaning" announcement is not how you announce the 4-month sunset of a beloved product. In the future, hopefully Google will prepare their users for transitions with more grace.

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