Google announced that it’s killing off Google Reader effective July 1, 2013. Reader was Google’s web-based program that let people subscribe to news feeds from their favorite sites. That’s a shame, because Reader was pretty great.
While RSS has maybe seen its heyday come and go, Google Reader was notable not only for its features, but for the active community it fostered for which Reader wasn’t just another tool. Sure it was revolutionary in terms of function, but moreover it was beloved.
Reader grew out of Blogger. In the summer of 2004, Jason Shellen — who had come to Google with the Blogger acquisition — was working on Google’s Atom specification. He asked a Blogger engineer Chris Wetherell if it would be possible to build an in-browser XML-parser to make sense of all these feeds. This little tool became Google Reader. Shellen liked the product, but couldn’t get the go-ahead from Google to launch it under its social program, so he took it to Marissa Mayer, who was running Google’s consumer web services. Mayer gave Reader the green-light–provided the team would strip out its social features.
It debuted as a formal Google Labs product in 2005. It developed a number of novel features, like the ability to detect what you had read on a per-item basis. And by 2007, it outgrew Labs and emerged as its own product (via a post from its marketing manager Kevin Systrom, who would go on to found Instagram). And yet slowly, social crept back in.
Reader gave users the ability to friend, follow and share stories with others. It let readers share stories with each other, and comment on them too. It became a place not just to read new stories, but to share and discuss them with friends. It was a discovery tool and a salon all in one.
However, Google removed the ability to natively share and replaced it with a Google + sharing option in 2011. That was effectively the end of the Reader community, many members of which publicly lamented the loss.
And now, the entire product is going away for good. This wasn’t exactly unforeseen. Reader had long been basically ignored, its updates were few and far between. Last month, when many users started reporting problems, Google simply ignored the issue for several days before even commenting on it. The end of Reader has been in plain sight for some time. Wired asked Shellen if he was sad to see Google finally pull the plug.
“It’s more bittersweet,” he replied. “I’d almost rather see it go away than linger out there and languish.”
If you really loved Google Reader’s features, Feedly is planning to launch a clone of the service. It will give you the features, but the community is basically gone for good.
But what about you? Were you a Google Reader user? Are you still? Will you miss it?