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Why Google Pulled The Plug On Google Reader

Jul 2, 2013
Originally published on July 3, 2013 7:22 am

Google has pulled the plug on its RSS service, Google Reader.

Launched in 2005, it was designed to help people organize information on the Internet by sorting content into a manageable, constantly updated feed.

It stemmed from a pet project by a Google employee named Chris Wetherell. Wetherell said if he still worked there, he’d take his ideas elsewhere, rather than see them be destroyed later.

We take a look at why Google Reader was discontinued, what happens to its former users and whether the move will affect the culture of innovation at Google.


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It's HERE AND NOW, and time now for a bit of business news. Google has officially shut down Google Reader, which allowed people to pull in news from various sites around the Web. Derek Thompson is a business editor at The Atlantic. And, Derek, first of all, lay out exactly what Google Reader was and why Google dropped it.

DEREK THOMPSON: Right. Google Reader was this wonderful program that millions of people used that allowed them to suck in websites and blogs, and people essentially manicured these news feeds that they spent years cultivating. And then all of a sudden, Google essentially said, nah-uh. We're not going to continue this program, and they shut it down on July 1st.

HOBSON: Well, why did they decide to do that?

THOMPSON: So, Google made a decision at the corporate level to pour their ample but limited resources into fewer products, and Google Reader didn't make the cut. We see over the last few years that even though there are some feverish cult followers, usage of Reader had reportedly declined, and essentially Google said, this isn't the kind of thing that we want to be spending our engineers and our money on, and so they let it go.

HOBSON: Is this about Twitter? I mean, are people just getting their news in different ways?

THOMPSON: It's exactly about that. You know, in an interview with Wired magazine, I think, a few months ago, one of the executives essentially said: We could feel the energy and we could feel the eyeballs just going, flowing off of Google Reader onto other sites like Twitter, like Facebook News Feed.

And, you know, really, this is a story not so much about Google and Google Reader, even though there are devoted fans. This is a story really about how we read and how we like to get our news. And essentially, what Twitter and some of these other news sites like Facebook News Feed offer is this really nice sense of controlled serendipity. You have a sense where you subscribe to certain people. They're people you follow. There are friends that you have. And they surprise you both with news that you didn't expect, along with the news that you would expect.

And so a lot of journalists, in particular, who are huge fans of Google Reader and who have been one of the most vocal proponents of the program, a lot of them have sort of left these RSS feeds and gone to Twitter, because they enjoy the takes that they get and the smart, cultivated news feeds that they've grown there.

HOBSON: Yeah. Although there are some that are very upset about this, the loss of this. I've been reading some comments about that. What happens to the people who used this service?

THOMPSON: Right. Some people are absolutely furious, and you can understand why. You've essentially - you've had people that have built their own personal newspapers, their own personal newsmagazines over many years, organized it perfectly just so they like it, then all of a sudden, Google pulls the rug under their feet. It's frustrating.

But, you know, into this vacuum flows all these different tech companies. You have Digg, with their reader. AOL has its own reader, feedly. You know, all these readers, they sort of look alike. They all look a little bit like inboxes with the stream of news where you would expect the emails to be, and then along the left-hand side, you can sort of organize your news the way that you like it.

HOBSON: Right.

THOMPSON: But they're all a little bit different. They give people a different way to cultivate it for their own sense.

HOBSON: Derek Thompson, business editor at The Atlantic, talking to us about the demise of Google Reader. Derek, thanks.

THOMPSON: Good to be here. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.