It saddens me greatly to write this post. To most people in the world, RSS may be either dead or nonexistent. But for me, and for many people I know (some only virtually), RSS – specifically Google Reader – is a huge part of daily life. I have two tabs permanently open on Chrome: Gmail and Google Reader. According to my “Trends” tab:
From your 420 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 4,022 items, clicked 231 items, starred 1 items, shared 54 items, and emailed 2 items.
Since December 6, 2007 you have read a total of 227,485 items.
I love RSS because it allows me to keep up with hundreds of blogs without having to visit them individually to see if they’ve been updated. I can also organize my subscriptions into categories, so if I feel like going on a food blog bender, it’s easy to scan through all of them at once.
But the very best thing about Google Reader is the social aspect. If I only have 5 minutes to devote to blog reading, I always go to the “People you follow” feed. These are the posts that the 102 people I follow have deemed worthy of sharing. This gives me a quick blast of curated content that is totally eclectic – I’ll see a post about some crazy architectural feat in the Middle East, followed by a ridiculous gif or meme, followed by a physics abstract, followed by an old interview between John Ashbery and Kenneth Koch.
Now, in an effort to get more people to use Google+, Google is taking those social features (sharing, following, and liking) away:
In the next week, we’ll be making some highly requested changes to Google Reader. First, we’re going to introduce a brand new design (like many of Google’s other products) that we hope you love. Second, we’re going to bring Reader and Google+ closer together, so you can share the best of your feeds with just the right circles.
As a result of these changes, we also think it's important to clean things up a bit. Many of Reader's social features will soon be available via Google+, so in a week's time we'll be retiring things like friending, following and shared link blogs inside of Reader.
In short: This sucks. Google is trying to force its very loyal Reader user base into using Google+ instead. And I don’t wanna! Google Reader already works for me; it’s not broken. And I’m not the only one who’s pissed. In the Atlantic, Adam Clark Estes notes that “the world is surprisingly angry about the end of Google Reader.” Of course, it’s not the whole world that cares, but primarly the “Sharebros”:
Sharebros identify themselves simply as "person(s) whom one is following and followed by on Google Reader (as formally recognized by a Google Reader founder)," but their devotion to Reader is uncanny. Like more well known online communities like Reddit or 4chan, they've developed their own glossary of hashtags and lexicon of pictograms. ( -_- denotes "dissatisfaction or defeat.") The community doesn't just exist online, either. They have #sharebro parties, and many of them say they've met some of their closest friends via Google Reader. At least one Sharebro met his wife.
I’m a little annoyed by the gendered-ness of this term, but I guess I am a Sharebro. Sharebros unite!
Iranians are also upset about the upcoming changes. As Sarah Perez at TechCrunch notes, “Google Reader served the Iranian community as a way to get uncensored, unfiltered news outside of government control.”
Some people are taking a stand. There is a petition to stop the changes to Google Reader, and a mini-movement dubbed “Occupy Google Reader”: Sharebros are protesting outside Google’s DC offices.
If you still don’t understand why this matters, allow me to share some of the moving and forceful arguments against these changes I’ve read over the past few days.
Here’s Courtney Stanton of “Here Is a Thing” on why Google Reader is “the best social network so far”:
The coolest part of gReader, for me, is the Comment View. This also lives in “People you follow,” and it displays any item, either shared by me or someone I follow, that has new comments on it since the last time I clicked on it. Not just stuff I’ve personally commented on, but anything that my friends are discussing. If two of my friends comment back and forth on a shared item, I will keep seeing their discussion, even if I haven’t contributed yet. As new comments appear on items, they get bumped to the top of Comment View, so I don’t miss anything and can jump in if a discussion works its way around to being something I want to participate in.
When I started using gReader, my community was about half the size it currently is. However, there would be people commenting on my friends’ shares, people I didn’t know, who were funny, or who mentioned stuff I liked, or whatever. And so over the first year or so, there was a lot of, “Oh hey, friend from art school who loves modern novels and hipster fashion, you should TOTALLY be friends with this friend-of-a-friend who works in the fashion industry and is awesomely intellectual,” type of stuff happening. It was, and continues to be, the only social network where I interact with people with some semblance of normal real world humanity. (And by that, I mean it’s like we’re all at a mutual friend’s house party.)
We discovered that if you click on “Shared Items”, you could write an original post and share it with the group. (Topics covered in that manner: job interviews, buying houses, getting engaged, moving across the country, pregnancy, child care, cancer scares, deaths in the family, holiday-related family drama, and the occasional “this day is the absolute worst, someone please remind me I’m a valuable human being”.)
We visit each other and go out to dinner together when we’re passing through town. We travel to stay at each other’s homes for a mini-break. About twenty of us rented a house and took a vacation together last summer. This community is the primary way I stay in regular contact with many of my closest friends, it’s the network I tell first about things that happen in my life, and it’s often the only place I vent when I’m upset enough about something that I don’t want to risk mis-speaking in highly public spaces like Twitter. I am a more sensitive person, a more aware person, a more progressive, more feminist, more sympathetic and more open-minded person because of the years spent reading things I’d never have read, seeing things I’d never have seen, and getting to discuss these “new” ideas with people I respect.
This is the community I’m losing.
Shares indicate shared interest.
But comments? COMMENTS FROM MY FRIENDS ABOUT THINGS I'VE SHARED OR OTHER FRIENDS HAVE SHARED ARE REMARKABLE. EVERY TIME. EVERY. TIME. I will drop what I'm doing to read new comments in Reader…
One of the funny ha ha great things we say about the few dozen people who make up our group of friends on Reader is that we're the Google Reader Party. But that's a misnomer. A party is what Google Reader is. It's us talking about awesome stuff.
"OH! OH WAIT! Plus has this Hangouts thing where" no you shut the fuck up right now.
I am old in internet terms. I am thirty years old. My friends are older. We work too much and decompress in weird ways, at weird times. I have trouble waking up before 9 a.m. Christine gets up at like 5 fucking o'clock a.m. Ashley goes to bed at 9 p.m. We don't Hangout. We need something asynch.
Here’s Zachary Sachs, who I just started following a week or so ago:
So obviously what Google should do with Reader is: (1) modernize it alongside the rest of their stuff; (2) transparently add full-scale integration services for major social networks; (3) give subtle but persistent advantage to its integration with Plus. I realize Reader probably represents insignificant social-networking market share, but if that's the case it doesn't follow that they'll gain very much by cannibalizing it.
Emphasis mine. If the people using Reader’s social features don’t matter to Google, why does Google need us to switch to Plus?
So far, Reader remains unchanged, but there’s no telling when we’ll wake up without that community. Google has yet to respond to the outrage.
I kind of feel like crying now, so I’ll just leave you with a few more articles on the death of Google Reader:
- E.D. Kain at Forbes: “Farewell Google Reader – We’ll Miss You”
- “How to Share Google Reader Stories to Google Plus” via ReadWriteWeb
- On Metafilter, no one seems to care
- Austin Frakt at The Incidental Economist: “I think Google Reader is among the best and most important pieces of technology in my life. I’d give up my microwave way before my Reader.”
- Brett Keller: “Save Google Reader”
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Have a good weekend, all.