Google Gives Users What they Paid for, Kills Free Reader Service

Google made it clear on Wednesday that it is serious about cleaning house with the a surprise announcement that its RSS service Google Reader, along with the Mac and Windows versions of the image enhancement tool Snapseed are shutting down. The Internet search giant is also giving the axe to Google Building Maker, Google Cloud Connect, Apps Script, CalDav API, Search API for Shopping and Voice App for BlackBerry.

Goodbye RSS: Google kills ReaderGoodbye RSS: Google kills Reader

Google Reader is the company's online service for managing and viewing RSS feeds. RSS, or Real Simple Syndication, is a system that lets websites and podcasts push content to users instead of requiring them to visit sites to check for updated news and other content. Reader gave users a way to manage their feeds and easily sync those feeds between multiple devices.

Google Software Engineer Alan Green said on the company's blog,

There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we're pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.

Reader users aren't dead in the water, at least not yet. The Google Takeout service will let them export their RSS feed list, which is good news because -- at least for some of us -- those RSS lists can be surprisingly long and rebuilding them would take a significant amount of time.

Losing Snapseed for OS X and Windows has to hurt for some, especially those of us that remember it as the amazing image enhancement suite from Nik Software. Snapseed isn't, however, quite dead yet since it lives on as an iPhone and iPad app. Presumably Google didn't see a reasonable return in its investment for desktop users and is choosing instead to focus on mobile devices.

A quick Twitter check Wednesday evening made it clear there are plenty of people upset about the demise of Google Reader which makes sense because the company did a fantastic job a few years ago in taking over the RSS management market, and now many of us have become dependent on the service as end users and developers.

When Google worked its way in as the defacto standard for RSS management, developers quickly became reliant on Reader as the back end for their apps, in turn making their users just as reliant, too. Taking away Reader means developers and their customers are now on the hunt for alternatives to fill the void Google has left behind.

The decision to kill the services isn't likely a move to try to boost Android's competitive edge in the mobile OS market and instead is driven by the numbers: As fewer users take advantage of a service, it makes less sense to continue investing resources -- namely man power and money -- in maintaining those offerings. If Google really wanted to use exclusion tactics to make Android more enticing, pulling Maps, Voice, and similar services from iOS would make far more sense.

The good news is that Google Reader users have until July 1 to download their feeds, and developers are already looking at options to fill the void. Most RSS reader apps will continue to work after July 1, too, although they won't be able to sync with other devices since they rely on Google Reader for that feature.

The irony is that before Reader took over the market, developers had their own systems for syncing and managing feeds and now Google has put them back in a position where they'll likely have to do the same again.

Losing Google Reader, along with the growing list of other services the company is killing, may hurt, but in the end shouldn't come as too big of a surprise. Google offered the service for free and ultimately wasn't obligated to maintain or support its features, and it's clear the company doesn't have any desire to feed resources into the products it just sent to the execution block.

Developers will fill the void and since they don't have to rely on Google for RSS management any more we'll likely see a nice surge in innovation. The service culling also sends an important message to users and developers: Don't put all your faith in Google's free services because some day they'll very likely go away.