Google has recently closed its Google Reader service: cue outrage and dismay from its legions of fans across social media. The response reached such hysteria that you could have been forgiven for mistaking it for a cruel personal tragedy or a national bereavement. And yet, on some level, this was a response entirely appropriate for Google’s decision.
Since Monday 1 July 2013, the official date of Google Reader’s demise, there has been much debate about Google’s motivation. The official line was that user numbers had dropped and showed little sign of resurgence. But this just doesn’t ring true. The sheer passion in the aftermath of Reader suggests a loyal and engaged community of users and there’s a whole host of Google products which survive without significant traffic – have you ever actually met someone who uses Google Schemer? (Yes, it does exist.)
Much more likely is that Google were not able to turn Google Reader into a something that could make money. In itself, this simply adheres to all existing precepts of business. But it goes deeper than that. Google Reader was an online portal for news feeds from across the internet, a direct connection between you and what you wanted to read. Google was the beneficent facilitator, nothing more. That was no longer enough. The closure of Google Reader is confirmation that Google is turning its back on anything it cannot monetise.
Google’s search engine, and its reader product, epitomised the open, optimistic and connected potential of the internet – the very ideals which Google pioneered so successfully in the first place. Instead, mimicking Facebook, Google is desperately striving to channel all online activity through its own URLs. To achieve the highest possible revenue, Google is trying to own the internet, and the illusion that tech giants are helping their users is beginning to evaporate.
2013 will surely be remembered as the year the internet turned against its users. PRISM has revealed the true extent to which governments have their online citizens under surveillance, the discontent about institutionalised personal data theft is reaching unprecedented volumes and ecommerce seems to be an enormous exercise in tax evasion. Lest we forget, the internet belongs to everyone, not just a moneyed few.
And consumers are refusing to play this game anymore. Alternatives are emerging: Brazil is working with several companies who have championed the rights of the online population. HideMyAss.com, a VPN provider, is protecting people from online surveillance and targeted advertising whilst new start-up, Handshake.uk.com, is putting control of personal data back in the hands of the consumer.
People were right to rail against the closure of Google Reader because it is only the beginning. The public, and the tech start-up community, must make Google remember who the internet belongs to.