When using a service that is provided by Google, the biggest concern which most people have is that the data which they upload to their servers is secure, closely followed by whether or not Google read your information without your knowledge.
However that is not the reason why I am writing this post, the reason to this post is triggered by the fact that in two days time, Google Reader will be no more.
Hopefully this will not come as a shock to anyone who uses Google Reader, as the announcement was made all the way back in March of this year, but even if you do not use the RSS syncing based service the chances are you do use one service provided by Google, a service which one day may also be shut down.
RSS is a service that is mainly used by tech enthusiasts, for the very simple reason that it allows you to keep up-to-date with hundreds of websites easily without having to visit each website in turn. I have covered the subject of RSS on a previous blog post back in 2010, and even with the invention of Twitter, it still forms an important part of my tech life, as new stories/posts are automatically pushed to my RSS reader allowing me to either read an excerpt or full article without having to go anywhere near a web browser.
Google Reader was launched in October 2005 with one main goal, to act as a way to access your feeds on any computer that had Internet access. As we worked our way through the new millennia mobile devices with Internet access became more prominent, and so Google Readers API allowed other mobile apps to access its content, and see which feeds had been read, and those which had not. It was a great way of ensuring that once you had read an article on one device, it was marked as read on every device.
Prior to Google Readers launch, there were services around which offered a similar function although for a small fee each month/year. Sadly once Google announced the free alternative they couldn’t compete, after all if you had the choice of paying for a service, or getting the exact same service for free, it’s not exactly a hard choice to make.
With the competition quickly dwindling, Google Reader became the default standard, with virtually every iOS, Android and Mac/PC RSS app requiring a Google Reader account, regardless as to whether or not you wanted to sync your feeds. Google had killed the competition, and was to RSS as it is to search engines, it was the leader.
The question which I pose is two-fold, firstly should Google be more careful as to way they ‘buy up’ areas of the technology industry, and secondly should blame (if any) be placed on us the consumer for buying into the ‘free’ service?
Imagine this situation (it shouldn’t be too hard as it has happened in may a city) where the high street is filled with local shops; a butcher, a baker and yes, even a candlestick maker. The atmosphere in each of these shops is different, and you know the owners and have a good relationship with them. You are happy with the service, and the goods which they offer fulfil your needs. This is the situation before Google takes over.
Then a new boy arrives in town, a large supermarket. They are bigger and provide meat, bread and candles all in the same place, but for a fraction of the price, everyone then changes their shopping habits and goes to the new supermarket, causing the local shops to go out of business. After a couple of years time, the supermarket decides that its costs are too high, and that its going to close the shop. The local shops are no longer there, and as the supermarket is going, you are left with nothing.
Looking at the first question, should Google be more careful as to the areas which it goes into? Well yes and no, whilst it does have some level of responsibility, it is a business after all, and its main aim, before anything else is to make money, and if it invests in an area that doesn’t make a decent return it makes perfect sense to no longer pursue that avenue.
So who is responsible? Well personally I think the blame lays firmly with the consumer. Using the supermarket situation, if you want to support the local shops, no matter how tempting the offers of the new supermarket are, you would not take them up, instead you would stick with local shops. You would vote with your feet, and if the market could only support one shop, the local one would survive.
This is the situation here, if consumers didn’t take up Google Reader and instead stuck with the commercial services available not only would have the apps out there not adopted Google Reader as the only service available for RSS syncing, but we wouldn’t all be in a panic when it was announced that Google Reader would be no more.
In effect, we are the author of our own misfortune.
Of course, Google
doesn’t didn’t just provide RSS syncing, but they also provide services which are far more popular, that being Google Search and Google Email, GMail. Whilst I do not think either of these services are going anywhere any time soon, nothing is certain.
If the time came where Google Search were no more, whilst it would no doubt come as a huge shock our behaviour wouldn’t really change that much. Rather than typing ‘google.com’ every time we needed to look for something we would instead type ‘bing.com’ or ‘yahoo.com’ and that would be that, very little harm done.
However, what would happen if GMail were no more (and I suppose you could also apply this to Hotmail)? I am not one of the people who use GMail, but I am aware that I am in the minority. Everyone has your email address, and you have hundreds of thousands of email stored within your account, an account that is now going to close in a month.
As a society we do virtually everything by email these days, we get receipts, meeting requests, bank statements etc etc by email. If turning off an RSS syncing service is a hassle, can you imagine the inconvenience it would cause to have to give everyone a new email address, update all your online services with your new email address, change your business cards to have your new email address, and, transfer all those emails across to your new service?
If I were in that position, I would probably be in email limbo for at least a couple of weeks, and there would always be that doubt that there would be important emails still being sent to my now inactive email account that were going unanswered.
The point I am therefore trying to make is a simple one, the saying that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’ is true. Yes Google, and other providers give us services which we do not have to pay for, but as we do not give them anything in return for the service they provide, they do not owe us anything in return. If the advertising does not pay what was expected, or uptake is not as good as hoped those who adopted it are in effect up the creek without a paddle.
To be safe(r) you should pay for what you use. If you pay for something not only do the developers get something in return for their efforts, but you can be more confident that its going to be around for some time to come, and that the time you invest in putting your data up there, and integrating that service into your daily workflow is not going to be wasted.