Is Google doing a 'Wispa' or a 'BBC Six Music' by closing Google Reader?

Well I didn’t see that coming… In a move that has already ignited a huge debate on the web Google has announced that it will pull its RSS driven Google Reader service in July.

In an announcement it said

Google says it is shuttering Reader and deprecating or shutting down a number of other services as part of the company’s “spring cleaning” initiative — one that seeks to help the company focus on the features that need the most use.

So it appears that Google Reader just isn’t as popular any more asit used to be.

So at this point you are probably either crying tears of sadness or asking the question what exactly is RSS?

Dealing with the latter first. RSS is a way in which blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video can be pulled from websites in a standardised form. RSS readers like Google Reader then enable people to skim through hundreds of articles from multiple sources at speed as they look for important and relevant things to read. It was all the rage a few years back.

As you can guess Google Reader has been a much loved tool of bloggers and journalists since its creation seven years ago.

So why is no one apparently using it anymore? I think there are two key reasons. Firstly Google Reader looks dreadful. It pulls stories into its system in a way that simply isn’t attractive or engaging. You really need to have a compelling reason (like journalists have) to wade through it on a daily basis.

Perhaps more importantly it has been superseded by social media and especially Twitter which work in a less systematic but often more intelligent way than an RSS reader. So, you might not get to see every story, but if you follow the right people who are generous in what they are sharing you get to see the stories that really matter – often along with the tweeter’s opinion on them. You can also access stories from the sites in real time via their Twitter feeds too.

It is interesting that the most successful RSS readers for the iPad at least – are services like Flipboard which focus on social media as much as RSS feeds and deliver articles in a compelling, and often beautiful way.

I do wonder though that Google might be doing a Wispa by announcing its intention to close the service.

In 2007 Cadbury’s announced that it was pulling the Wispa bar, a move which provoked a huge social media campaign to keep it and which ultimately increased its sales.

The same thing happened with BBC Six Music, Under pressure to initiate cuts I think that BBC execs cynically earmarked the service for the chop knowing that its demographic of social media savvy largely middle class listeners would campaign vigorously to save it. The end result was that its profile shot up and it became too popular to close.

So maybe, just maybe, Google is pulling a similar stunt with Reader. There are already blog posts calling for it to be saved. I just wonder of the threat of closure might give it the shot in the arm it needs to survive.

Ashley Norris