I have a lot of respect for Google. Not just because I like their products and the way they’ve pioneered new ways of making money online, but because they’ve managed to stay light on their feet and innovative as they’ve grown in size.
If we look to the past, many once-successful companies, particularly in tech (where perhaps it happens faster) have risen and fallen because once they’ve risen to the top, they’ve become so big, clumsy and arrogant that smaller companies with new ideas and the ability to move quickly have come along and usurped them (only to make the same mistakes themselves later).
Not so Google. They place so much value on innovation that they ringfence 20% of their engineer's time to it, letting them try out ideas, no matter how far fetched, to see where things go. Every now and then a gem appears (Google Maps for example) whilst the others never see the light of day.
I also love the way they’re not scared to ‘fail’ in public. Google Wave is one such case. A new take on email and collaboration. I tried it at launch, wanted to like it, but just couldn’t get on with it. Google responded to public reaction as it came in, made quick improvements, but also recognised that it wasn’t going to fly and set a date for its demise. This was no failure, there were some brilliant ideas in there that will underpin new products as they launch. To be this good, you can’t be afraid of mistakes.
But; there are mistakes and there are mistakes. It’s all very well removing a new application that never left beta (unfinished, still in test), but taking away a much loved product that’s well established, long out of beta and used everyday by millions is just not on.
Yes, I’m talking about Google Reader, the web-app that allows you to manage your RSS feeds (a method of subscribing to websites and being notified of each new article) in a simple and intuitive way. Google are taking it away and I’m gutted and not just because there isn’t an obvious alternative.
Google started out as two geeks in a garage with a spelling mistake in the company name. Their search engine succeeded because it’s amazing, but also because the other geeks told the rest of the world just how great it was and got everyone using it.
Google may be a long way from that garage (actually I think they’re just up the road!), but they still need the support of the geeks. With the web being as mature as it is now, Google’s ideas and new applications need to float with the geeks before anyone else more than ever. They’re the ones who use the early versions, put up with the flaws and provide the helpful feedback. They’re also the word of mouth that help put a product into the mainstream.
Google you may be able to count your customers in the hundreds of millions, but when you retire a loved application like Google Reader because “not enough people are using it” - you haven’t spent enough time looking at who those people are. It’s the geeky types who support the rest of your offerings and crossing us is short-sighted.
I’ll move on from Google Reader quickly enough. I hear Digg and Feedly are both working to provide versions of their services that will appeal to Google Reader ex-pats. Personally I have about 50 website subscriptions leading to over 200 headlines a day to work through. Being able to scan the titles and maybe the first paragraph of an article before I decide to drill down is essential and the geek in me is actually quite looking forward to trying some new stuff out.
So whilst I won’t mourn Google Reader itself for very long. My relationship with Google has changed, perhaps forever. They’re currently making a big fuss about Google Keep. It’s an interesting note-taking platform and it looks quite good. I won’t be using it though. I’ll stick with Evernote thanks, after all I don’t want them to switch it off because it’s got less than 200 million users or not making them enough money....