The big news in tech circles is this is the week Google Reader died. There has been a lot of collective shock about this since Google Reader was a staple of the sort of technology news omnivore and early adopter that was once considered to be the core fan base for Google. Despite Google’s protestations it’s quite clear that there was ample usage of the service with sites like Buzzfeed providing evidence that up to its last day it was driving over a million referrals a day. As someone who wrote a feed reader that synced with Google Reader which has been downloaded over 1.5 million times and is credited in Atom format specification it is sad to see such a core part of the RSS ecosystem come tumbling down.

The biggest surprise for many is how far Google seems to have strayed from its core mission as epitomized by this comment on Hacker News

ivank 1 day ago | link | parent

Organizing the World's Information... and setting it on fire 8 years later.

Like many companies before it, the company has done a great job of separating its public persona from the gritty reality of its business practices. Google’s business mission is to organize all the world’s information and use that to sell advertising. The great thing about this business model is that for a long time it has been a win-win for every one involved in the ecosystem. Consumers get great web services and products that are expensive to build and run for free such as Google Search, Gmail, Chrome and Android. Advertisers get to target consumers in new ways which have a better return on investment than they traditionally have been able to get from print and other media. While Google has minted hundreds of millionaires with the profits they’ve gotten from creating this ecosystem.

Unfortunately, Google has also hit the same problems that successful companies before it have had to face. The laws of large numbers mean that for Google to continue to be a great business for its shareholders (which includes its employees and executives) then it needs to find ways to eke even more money out of its customer base (advertisers) by giving them even more product (consumers with rich demographic and behavioral information) or by growing into new markets. Companies like Apple and Microsoft have faced this problem by growing new multi-billion dollar businesses. Apple went from a computer company to the iPod company and now it’s the iPhone company which is transitioning to becoming the iPad company. Microsoft started off as the BASIC company, transitioned to being the Windows & Office company and today has several billion dollar businesses from game consoles to database software. Google has decided to face this challenge by doubling down on their advertising business which means trying to suck in even more data via acquisitions like Waze and ITA as well as extracting more revenue from advertisers by removing consumer targeting options.

For the most part Google has diverted tech press scrutiny from this ongoing attempt to monopolize data sources and hover up personal information about users for later resale using misdirection. A few years ago the Google playbook was to release some technology branded as “open” such as OpenSocial which aimed to paint Facebook as “evil”, open sourced Android which paints Apple as “evil” or Google Chrome which was released with an excellent comic book explaining why it was so open. How could one complain about Google with a straight face when they were giving all of these free services to consumers and “open” technologies to the industry? No one would buy it. This was the strategy of the old Google under Eric Schmidt and it worked beautifully.

It has been an interesting hallmark of Google under Larry Page that it doesn’t play these games anymore. Pursuing Google’s business strategies at the expense of its public image as the good guy of the technology industry is now par for the course. I was taken aback when Google announced that it was going to fork Webkit since this was a blatant political move which many technology savvy geeks would see through. For days afterwards, the article A Short Translation from Bullshit to English of Selected Portions of the Google Chrome Blink Developer FAQ was a viral hit among developers on Twitter with excerpts such as

1.2 Is this new browser engine going to fragment the web platform's compatibility more?


We intend to distract people from this obvious problem by continually implying that our as-yet unwritten replacement is somehow much better and more sophisticated than the rendering engine that until yesterday was more than good enough to permit us to achieve total dominance of the Windows desktop browsing market in less than two years.

This strategy has worked extremely well for Netscape, Microsoft, Apple and us in previous iterations of the browser wars, and we firmly believe that everyone in this industry was born yesterday and they will not recognise this for the total bullshit it so clearly is.

1.10 Is this going to be open source?

Not really.

While you can certainly read the source code, we're fully aware that actually tracking and understanding a modern HTML renderer is extremely difficult. In addition, the first changes we will make are intended specifically to break compatibility with WebKit, so the only organisation with sufficient resources to track our changes will no longer be able to do so.

In practice, this allows us to call the project "open" while simultaneously ensuring Google will be the only effective contributor to the Chrome and Blink source now and in the future. We've had enormous success co-opting the language of open source in the past to imply our products are better, and we aim to continue with that strategy.

So what does all of this have to do with Google Reader? As Marco Arment points out in his excellent post titled Lockdown, Google is in a battle with Facebook and Twitter to suck up user demographic and behavioral data around social signals. Google Reader is literally the opposite of that strategy since it is far too decentralized when compared to the model pioneered by Facebook Pages and Twitter.

Google Reader has been living on borrowed time since Facebook and Twitter became prominent. The only thing that has changed in 2013 is that Google’s management doesn’t think it’s worth it to throw a bone to millions of geeks and early adopters by keeping the lights running on the service with its existing skeleton crew. This new Google doesn’t care if geeks and early adopters just see it as another money hungry corporation that only focuses on the bottom line. Larry Page doesn’t give a shit.

Welcome to the new Google.

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