Dreams, discernment, and Google Reader

There’s been some interesting critical discussions of some design and product changes within Google Reader recently and I’ve kind of stayed out of it since I’m heads down on making big changes elsewhere. But I grabbed a few minutes, and I’d like to share a few notes I’ve written about it…
 

  • If Reader continues being understaffed, absorbed, or is eliminated then the internal culture at Google will adjust to a newly perceived lack of opportunity for building things that are treasured. No one knows what effect this will actually have, though. The response could be tiny.
     
  • Technology will route around the diminishment or disappearance of Reader. Even if this means something other than feeds are being used.
     
  • It’s a tough call. Google’s leaders may be right to weaken or abandon Reader. I feel more people should acknowledge this.
     
  • However, saying “no” to projects doesn’t make you Steve Jobs if you say no to inspiring things. It’s the discernment that’s meaningful, not the refusal. Anyone can point their thumb to the ground.
     
  • The shareable social object of subscribe-able items makes Reader’s network unique and the answer to why change is painful for many of its users is because no obvious alternative network exists with exactly that object. The social object of Google+ is…nearly anything and its diffuse model is harder to evaluate or appreciate. The value of a social network seems to map proportionally to the perceived value of its main object. (Examples: sharing best-of-web links on Metafilter or sharing hi-res photos on Flickr or sharing video art on Vimeo or sharing statuses on Twitter/Facebook or sharing questions on Quora.) If you want a community with stronger ties, provide more definition to your social object.
     
  • Reader exhibits the best unpaid representation I’ve yet seen of a consumer’s relationship to a content producer. You pay for HBO? That’s a strong signal. Consuming free stuff? Reader’s model was a dream. Even better than Netflix. You get affinity (which has clear monetary value) for free, and a tracked pattern of behavior for the act of iterating over differently sourced items – and a mechanism for distributing that quickly to an ostensible audience which didn’t include social guilt or gameification – along with an extensible, scalable platform available via commonly used web technologies – all of which would be an amazing opportunity for the right product visionary.
     
  • Reader is (was?) for information junkies; not just tech nerds. This market totally exists and is weirdly under-served (and is possibly affluent).
     
  • The language for decisions based on deferred value is all about sight, which I find beautiful (and apt for these discussions). People are asking if Google is seeing the forest for the trees. I’d offer that Google is viewing this particular act-of-seeing as a distraction.
     
  • Reader will be an interesting footnote in tech history. That’s neat and that’s enough for me; wasn’t it fun that we were able to test if it worked?
     
  • Google is choosing to define itself by making excellent products in obvious markets that serve hundreds of millions of people. This is good. A great company with evident self-consciousness that even attempts to consider ethical consequences at that scale is awesome. But this is a perfect way to avoid the risk of creating entirely new markets which often go through a painful not-yet-serving-hundreds-of-millions period and which require a dream, some dreamers, and not-at-all-measurable luck. Seemingly Google+ could be viewed as starting a new market, but I’d argue that it mainly stands a chance of improving on the value unlocked by other social networks, which is healthy and a good thing, but which doesn’t require an investigation into why it’s valuable. That’s self-evident in a Facebook world. Things like Reader still need a business wizard to help make sense of the value there.
     
  • If Google is planning on deprecating Reader then its leaders are deliberately choosing to not defend decisions that fans or users will find indefensible. This would say a lot about how they would communicate to the marketplace for social apps and about how they’d be leading their workforce. If this is actually occurring and you’re internal to Google – it’s ok, I can imagine you’d be feeling that these decisions are being made obtusely “just because” or since “we need to limit our scope to whatever we can cognitively or technically handle” or such but I’d offer that maybe it’s needed for driving focus for a large team? I suppose sacrificing pet projects, public responsibility, and transparency could be worth it if the end is a remarkable dream fulfilled. But what if the thing you’re driving everyone toward isn’t the iPod but is instead the Zune? So just make sure it’s not that.
     
  • The following sentence is unfair but it’s a kind of myth and fog that has been drifting into view about ‘em: Google seems to be choosing efforts like SketchUp over Reader. I doubt there’s a common calculus, but it’s now harder for Google’s users to really know how important it is that many millions of people are using a product every day when Google is deciding its evolution and fate.
     

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>