So there’s this straightforward premise that might sound a little crazy to some of you younger readers. Check this out.
- You find a publisher on the internet that you want to follow. It could be a creative friend, a brand you love, an online publication or site that you read voraciously, a YouTube channel, your favorite author, a funny comedian on Twitter, just really anyone.
- You have a collection of these kinds of publishers, and you always want to know about their latest post/update/story/video, whatever it is.
- You add them to this super cool tool from Google, and it automatically lets you quickly catch up on all the latest stuff from all of your favorite publishers in one place.
- You never miss any of it, and you never have to sift through the unrelated crap or see any ads cluttering up the stuff you wanted to read.
Now, what if I told you that Google made this tool over ten years ago, and then, for reasons I can’t fully comprehend, decided to kill the project altogether?
Well, believe it, baby. It happened.
Google Reader was precisely this tool I described above. Why did they let it die? Well, in summary, two words. Social. Media.
First, more and more publishers were pushing their audiences to follow and engage with them on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone was on social media, and it was so easy to stay connected to all the updates you wanted from friends and blogs and brands alike.
Second, Google launched its social network (Google+) in mid-2011. They figured if this is how people wanted to follow people online, they’ll make a Google way to do it. Then they launched Google Now in 2012, which are those neat info/news cards on your Google app that try to read your mind about what you might want to see or read.
See, Google was looking at the Reader product as a “news” reader. And technically that was correct. At the time it launched back in 2005, it was a pretty typical way that people consumed news— through an RSS feed (just Google it).
So now people had Google Now for breaking news and then Google+ for less critical reading. And all was well with the world; right up until it wasn’t anymore.
Two significant problems have developed since then.
- Google weirdly killed their social network in 2017. Some will argue that it was never really alive anyway. I say “weirdly” killed, because it was more of a lobotomy. Now it’s not a social network per se, the way we tend to think of one, but instead more of a dedicated network of interest groups to chat online about topics. The problem here is that they took away the ease in which a person could “subscribe” or follow a publisher they liked via Google+.
- The other social network broke their basic promises to their users, both intentionally and unintentionally so.
Even if Facebook hadn’t ever changed the news feed to be algorithm-based, the sheer number of connections we had eliminated the possibility of using the Facebook News Feed to stay up-to-date with the publishers we care about most. I can’t help that my high school friends publish hundreds of memes daily, so on the one hand, I’m glad Facebook weeds out some things.
But I also know (and you do too) that if there is a brand or blog that I DO want to stay up-to-date on, Facebook is the LAST place you’d want to connect with them. Chances are, you’re likely not going to be part of the 1% of their fans who see their posts.
(I know there’s a “See First” option, but again, it practically doesn’t work for all the people/publishers that most people want to follow. And you’d then have a News Feed lopsided only showing updates from Pages instead of your friends.)
So, Facebook, Instagram, Google Now, and Twitter (at least first-party options) all basically just make somewhat educated guesses (varyingly successful ones) of what we might want to see when we open the app. Sometimes they’re right, but often they’re not.
To make matters worse, with Patreon and YouTube flourishing, and the ease of creating all kinds of content now online, there are more personalities, brands, and publishers now that I want to follow and voraciously consume their content.
So. Google, now is the time to resurrect Google Reader. It was simple, functional, and easy-to-use to just keep up with our favorite publishers online.
And that fundamental function is pretty hard to find on the internet these days.