Google Tells Wired Why Google Reader Was Axed, Reveals That They Don’t Understand How We Discover News Articles

google-reader-logoWired has a new article this morning on Google Reader, and it might be worth a read. They scored an exclusive interview with Richard Gingras, Google's Senior Director of News & Social Products.This article is Google's attempt at spinning the shut down of Google Reader (now only 24 days away), but in trying to come up with an explanation why the Readerpocalypse was a good idea, Google has actually revealed just how little they understand about how we read, and how we find content to read.

But there’s another reason Google decided to put its RSS reader to death. According to Mountain View, most of us simply consume news differently now than when Reader was launched.

“As a culture we have moved into a realm where the consumption of news is a near-constant process,” says Richard Gingras, Senior Director, News & Social Products at Google. “Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day — replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day.”

That may well be true, but it doesn't account for the sources we use to get that news. I read news all throughout the day, and I still use a news reader to do so.

But apparently Richard thinks I am doing it all wrong. According to Google we should be getting our news from Google Now and Google Plus:

Google Now‘s approach is to leverage artificial intelligence techniques to learn your tastes and habits so it can deliver headline news you’ll want to read, when you want to read it. Since it’s on mobile, it can take advantage of device sensors to consider data like your location, the time of day, and whether you’re stationary or on the road. Over time, it will learn, for example, that you like to get the top headlines during your 8 AM commute, and that you prefer stories about politics and food. If this worked perfectly, it’d be an extraordinarily efficient way to get the news. But to start, it still has to learn your preferences, and — far worse — it’s not available on many Android devices yet (oh Android fragmentation, you rear your ugly head again).

While Google Now caters to your breaking news needs, Google+ steps in for more leisurely interest reading. Google has been trying to push Google+ as a social media news source (instead of Google Reader) since 2011. At Google I/O last month, Google+ gained some functions that make it smarter about surfacing articles and images readers might be interested in checking out. Say someone posts an article on Google+ that you like. Tap (or click) it to flip it over and see an automatically generated list of related hashtags that you can click to get more related content. In this way you can explore varied sources you otherwise wouldn’t know about, or get deeper knowledge on a subject you’re interested in.

I choose to be amused by this rather than pissed.

I have to be amused by this, because otherwise I would be bothered by the suggestion that I use Google Now. It does not support web browsers (only mobile apps), making it a giant F*** You from Google.  Apparently I am not supposed to be using a web browser any more, not for reading, not for work, not for anything.

And even if I could use Google Now, there's no way that it can match my ability to sort through the feeds and find the articles worth sharing. My reading interests are based on decades of reading, and that cannot be emulated in days, weeks, or even after years of using a service like Google Now.

And as for Google+, don't get me started. Seriously, if a social network could provide my news sources don't you think I would have switched over by now?

So far as I can tell Google has not yet figured out that social networks get news links from news junkies, most of whom use a news reader of one kind or another. Basically the very people who feed links into Google+ are the ones that are being harmed by the shutdown of Google Reader.

But you don't have to take my word for it; instead consider the millions of people that have fled to GR alternatives like Feedly, or the numerous services that have come out of the woodwork since Google Reader was EOLed.

And here's one that will knock your socks off. If no one uses news reader apps any more then Why the Hell is Digg scrambling to launch a replacement to Google Reader?

Seriously, Digg is throwing resources at a product that Google claims no one will want to use. Given all that I have seen going on for the past 4 months I think that claim simply does not hold up to scrutiny.

I am going to have to agree with the general sentiment on Twitter. Google is doing their best to spin a bad decision, but sadly the excuses quoted above are the best they can come up with.

About Nate Hoffelder (11579 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

9 Comments on Google Tells Wired Why Google Reader Was Axed, Reveals That They Don’t Understand How We Discover News Articles

  1. Since Google Reader is going away, my primary reason for being logged in to Google has vanished. (I prefer not to keep Gmail active all the time and haven’t joined Google+)

    So, thanks Google! I exported my Google Reader subscriptions and imported them into Liferea. (I find Liferea to suit my RSS needs nicely. I can always try Digg or Feedly after they mature.)

    Then I logged out of Google and I am really enjoying the peace and quiet. Somehow, I don’t think that was quite what Google was trying to get me to do… 😉

    • Agreed. I only use my Google account now for the very, very occasional use of Gmail (which I use only when Yahoo or my work email can’t handle something). I did join Google+, but have yet to find a good use for it. Google Reader was the only really useful service I used and would put up with their ads.

  2. Uneducated Guess // 6 June, 2013 at 6:19 pm // Reply

    “Users with smartphones and tablets are consuming news in bits and bites throughout the course of the day — replacing the old standard behaviors of news consumption over breakfast along with a leisurely read at the end of the day.”

    What total bullshit.

    I use a feed reader (used to be Google Reader when I was young and foolish) on my smartphone and tablet THROUGHOUT THE DAY. I’m checking, saving to Pocket, and sharing links all the time.

    But hey, I guess we can be comforted that some of the dollars freed up by killing Reader will go toward Google Glass — you know, to help rapists, thieves, and perverts victimize people with awesome efficiency. Yay, Silicon Valley.

  3. Glad they killed it. Got me to Feedly which is worlds better. Goo-bye Goo-gle.

  4. That first quote misses another important thing about how people use it. Many of us want to /stop ourselves/ looking at net stuff all the time so we can do what’s actually important to do. Then when we choose to take a few minutes, we can have it all collected for us in one place.

  5. Another point they miss is this: I usually receive a lot more news than I can read in a reasonable amount of time. But these are News *I* subscribed or selected or searched (I have a few Alerts with Google via RSS). Getting News selected from an AI helps me how? Not at all is my answer.
    They do not understand the problem, therefore their conclusion / solution does not match.

  6. It’s worth remembering Google as with many big companies has never cared a big deal about what a minority too small for them to care about and not growing, want. In fact they’re fairly reknown for concentrating on whatever they think are their core services i.e those most heavily used or with the most perceived growth potential to the exclusion of all else. Even if these users are supposedly important in some way (e.g. thew news junkies who you claim promote the news), it doesn’t matter to Google if they move elsewhere if this doesn’t come at any significant cost to them. Nor have they ever been reluctant to try to force people to use their services by heavily promoting and pushing them, to the extent of damaging or killing other services. For all their propaganda slogans, Google is just like any big company and cares about making money and growing to keep their shareholders happy. In other words, none of what you’re saying is likely to be a surprise to Google, not something which makes anyone significant lose sleep.

  7. BTW, while I don’t use any bot or AI service to find news for me, it seems clear a large number of people are happy to use such services and happy with the results. Having seen such services in actions, it’s actually kind of scary how good they can be at times, even if they always have their funny results. For most people, they’re often more accurate than feeds (amongst other things, they have way more info and filtering capability) and of course don’t require manually subscribing to stuff which many people find annoying and can’t be bothered doing. This sort of self reaffirming closed loop of news has some scary social implications which people have noted with search customisation, but then again people have been doing similar things themselves for years.

    On a personal level, the last time I looked in to feeds, Google Reader seemed a poor idea anyway, I only wanted it for one computer so why rely on a third party service? Of course it’s undoubtedly something many people did want, simply not enough for Google to care about any more.

  8. Not just Digg — there was a ton of buzz on alternative RSS readers right after the announcement. So clearly there’s still some interest in RSS.

    What I find irritating is the idea that Google wants to filter my news for me. I filter it by the feeds I choose, and it takes only moments to scan past a story that doesn’t interest me. I’m much better at filtering the content I want than an algorithm, and I don’t want a program filtering out things I might need. Please leave the choice to me. Their alternative may work better for many or most, but it’s not what I need.

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