Looking for clues at the scene of the Google Reader crime…


Last week, I encouraged readers to keep calm and continue using Google Reader. While I still think that’s good advice, I’m not so sure any longer that Google will be rolling Reader into Google+. Why? I had forgotten at the time that Google had recently killed Feedburner and was not aware that Google had taken the RSS subscription extension out of the chrome Web store.

These three events together point to what innovation expert Tim Kastelle called a ‘shaping strategy’ on the part of Google to coerce people to publish and share in a way that Google wants them to. Tim commented “I definitely think that they’re following a shaping strategy – though I’m not sure about whether or not killing RSS actually helps it. For me the big issue is this: people that rely only on social media to find out what’s going on still need RSS, even if they don’t use it themselves.” Tim also pointed me to this article by Joshua Gans on The Social Structure Of News. In it, Gans says:

“The problem is that from what we know about the social structure of social media is that there are a set of roles available. Take Mark Thoma. His blog and twitter feeds have a huge following. Why? Because he reads all of the Econ blogs and picks out what he thinks is best. If you read Thoma, chances are you don’t need Google Reader. He is the social web.

But how does Thoma operate? My guess is that he uses a feed reader and has a system for tagging good posts and forwarding them on to others. Sometimes it is just a link. Other times he provides a quote and a little commentary. Remove his tools and his job gets harder.

Given this it should be no surprised that the most dismayed about the loss of Google Reader were the contributors to social web curation. There is only need for a few of these but they do an important job so disrupting them will harm many. In the Econ world, these people are well known. They are Brad de Long, Tyler Cowen and a few more specialized bloggers. In the days of old I used to do this too with multiple posts daily but the others were better and so I dropped back to being one of the many who hoped these curators would pick up their posts.

My point is that if you say you don’t use Google Reader because the social web takes care of you, then you are mistaken. The social web needs its tools and indirectly so do you.”

In their content guidelines published 11/1012, Google says

“One of the most important steps in improving your site’s ranking in Google search results is to ensure that it contains plenty of rich information that includes relevant keywords, used appropriately, that indicate the subject matter of your content.

However, some webmasters attempt to improve their pages’ ranking and attract visitors by creating pages with many words but little or no authentic content. Google will take action against domains that try to rank more highly by just showing scraped or other cookie-cutter pages that don’t add substantial value to users.”

Killing Google Reader goes beyond Google’s usual move to force users into the walled garden of Google+; I now believe this is a shaping strategy to kill curation and auto posting as a form of content marketing and to give Google more control over publishers in much the same way book publishers had control over authors in the ‘old days’.

There’s still really no rush to find a replacement for Google Reader — if you’re using Google Reader you’ll be able to export your sources before July 1 and import them into the next great RSS reader. What to do about Google is another issue altogether. Google has ‘exceeded their brief‘ and is getting evil

How about you? Do you see the ‘shaping strategy’ or do you have a different perspective?

2 thoughts on “Looking for clues at the scene of the Google Reader crime…

  1. Thanks for the mention, Todd 🙂

    You’re right – instead of people crying over the death of Google Reader, they should find their best alternative and get used to it… 😉

    Which one is your choice?



    1. For right now, I am continuing to use Google Reader and Feedly as I have for the past 3 years. Feedly seems to be the obvious choice but it remains to be seen how well they will navigate their newfound popularity…


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