Thoughts on the demise of Google Reader and decline of RSS
My friend Chris said he was looking forward to the book I’m going to write on how Google mismanaged Reader. I’m looking forward to it, too. It’ll be a real thrill to read since I’m not planning on writing it.
My first (and, so far, lasting) thought on Google’s condemnation of Reader to Google Death Row (beta) is that it makes sense for them, business-wise, for the same reason that Twitter is getting rid of it’s desktop Tweetdeck app (among other things). They have a finite number of developers and they want to concentrate those developer’s efforts.
In Google’s case, they want to concentrate their efforts on Google+. There’s no doubt in my mind that Reader’s demise has nothing to do with the size or habits of it’s user base, and everything to do with Google wanting to minimize the number of places besides Plus that people can look at links. Now, we all know that they’re crazy for thinking that the boneheaded interface of Plus is a substitute for Reader. Or for anything. But it’s obvious that the GOOG is determined to have you use Plus, dammit.
The other factor that I’m guessing is going into Reader is that, judging from the various RSS readers that I’ve seen over the years, from Bloglines to Hivemined, is that RSS readers are not easy to develop and seem to be a real PITA to maintain. Not that Google can’t manage it, but why put all the work into editing and maintaining software that’s only diverting your audience from your flagship product?
It’s all those working parts, development and maintenance that’s caused the downhill popularity (and the never-arriving mainstream popularity) of RSS in general. Feeds aren’t easy to create if you don’t have a system that makes them for you, they render in readers inconsistently, they’re difficult to get even marginally reliable analytics for, and they’re one more part of your site that you have to chase after. In short, RSS feeds from a site owner’s/business perspective: harder to maintain than social media feed with hard-to-see ROI. Is it any wonder more sites are letting their RSS feeds rot away?
It’s even worse from a user’s perspective. Yes, many of us have worked our content-consuming web lives around RSS for years, but have you ever tried to explain it to someone? “It’s like subscribing to a magazine! Well, you have to find the feed. If the site doesn’t put up the link, then you have to find the feed discovery icon in the browser bar (if your browser supports that). If it doesn’t give you the option to choose one of dozens of feed readers (you have to use a feed reader…pick one), then you have to copy-and-paste the link and then put it into your feed reader. And if the site doesn’t properly maintain the feed, then…tough luck?”
RSS always desperately needed someone to come up with an easy way to subscribe; something like the Facebook like button where you can simply subscribe to an RSS feed; something where we could quit calling them “feeds” and have it be a clear subscription. And something that was extremely easy for site owners to provide for their customers and had a clear business use. But that never happened. So site owners AND consumers slowly quit using it.
Back to the original question, though: I think that Google’s mismanagement came not in the direct decisions regarding Reader, but in the mismanagement of Google Buzz and Google+.
In Buzz, they had the perfect social network. Yes, seriously. The concept was simple and easy: take your blogs and shared articles and put them in a feed with the ability to post a status. But then they forced it into gmail and forced your friends/connections. The same concept into a standalone app with individual friend selection would have been a fantastic social network.
In Plus, they’ve pushed a flawed concept (Circles) and a terrible design in which a single story will take the entire screen real-estate and tried to make it be all things. If, from the very start, they had just kept Reader sharing exactly as it was, except that your shares showed up to Circles that you decide on, it would have made Plus rich with content and conversation. But instead, they’ve shut down the interactive site that lots of people use in an attempt to get us to use another interactive site that’s a different thing altogether.
Since Reader’s sharing was shut down, I’ve turned much more to Twitter (and more specifically, the columns of Tweetdeck). It’s not a great place for conversation and debate, but it’s the best place for curated articles from the connections that I choose, and that’s what I always loved about Reader.
The One Good Thing About Google+
There’s a lot to hate about Google Plus. Google has been ridiculously pushy about a product that offers very little that other products don’t. The design is poor—one post with a couple comments takes up the entire real estate—and the mobile app pushes an “immersive” experience, as though that’s what we really needed. Circles are high-maintenance and the wrong way to go about content management and Google is pushing us all do to more: more people in your circles, follow more people and brands, join more communities. MORE.
But there is one good thing about Google+, and that’s that it acts as the glue between all Google products, most notably your contacts, where your address book is updated with the people who are in your circles. Even if the social side of Google+ fails, that connection is still highly valuable, and it’s important that people both keep their information current and that they expose it to at least their Friends circle.
Of course, this is what a lot of the initial arguments in favor of Google+ put forward: that it’s not a social network, but a way to link everything together. That doesn’t account for why Google has been so forceful with the social aspects of Plus, though. If it’s not a social network—if it’s not a Facebook clone—then why are they launching communities, Pages, and pushing us to put more people into our circles?
Here’s to hoping that they’ll continue to make the contact aspect even more useful, even if they don’t do the same for the social parts.
Is the end of free Google Apps the end of free Google?
Last week, I got an email for all of the domains that I own and have Google Apps set up for:
Starting today, we’re no longer accepting new sign-ups for the free version of Google Apps (the version you’re currently using). Because you’re already a customer, this change has no impact on your service, and you can continue to use Google Apps for free
Not a big deal to me. I can still use all the email addresses that I had set up and the few Google Apps that I used. But it does mean that if I (or anyone else) sets up a new domain with Google, you don’t automatically get to use Google Apps for free, even in a limited sense.
It strikes me that this could be something even bigger, though. While Google has come up with pay versions of already existing products, is this the first time that they’ve removed all free versions of a product? Is this a new page turning for Google where not everything that they create will be available for free?
“That’s a lot of rights to give Google, on the face of it — in fact, it’s basically every right you cangive to Google as a copyright holder. But think about how limited Google’s services would be if it didn’t have permission to use, host, store, modify, communicate, publish, or distribute your content — it couldn’t move files around on its servers, cache your data, or make image thumbnails, since those would be unauthorized copies. It couldn’t run Google Translate or Google Image Search. It would be illegal to play YouTube clips in public. In short, Google is giving itself all the permissions it could possibly need to run all of Google services, with the specific limitations that it doesn’t own anything you upload and it can’t use your data beyond running its services.”
Love this quote here. It’s not that I think that the concerns aren’t valid (especially that “even if they don’t use if for evil, they could since you’re giving them permission to), but these things are worded in a way that companies have the freedom to make their products work the way they intended to. Worrying about it is like worrying about some random horrific crime: yes, it might happen, but the chances are so slim that it’s not worth worrying about.
A few initial thoughts on Google Drive
- Everyone’s comparing it to Dropbox (for obvious reasons), but this is a huge deal to Microsoft and Apple. Neither of them have been able to touch Google in the cloud documents space already, and this just puts Google that much further ahead.
- I’m kind of surprised that they only offer 5 GB off the bat. Maybe they’re just competing with Dropbox at this point, but it seems kind of silly that gmail (which you can use for storage) is going up to 10GB. Why not let Gdrive be 10GB?
- I do wish that the pricing for extra storage was a little cheaper. It’s still pretty cheap, but when I think about how, five years ago, people were talking about how storage was getting cheaper and cheaper, it seems to have hit a point where it isn’t getting any cheaper or larger.
- I’ll really have to use it to give it a fair shake, because the intro video is relatively worthless in really explaining how it’ll work, but does anyone else feel like it’s basically just a backend to Google Docs?
“But the question remains – Can Google Drive hold a candle to Dropbox?”
The rumors have it that Google Drive will give people 5 GB, but for me, that doesn’t hold a candle to Dropbox, where I have almost 14 GB.
The ease of use and interaction will obviously go a long way toward answering the candle-holding question: it could only be as slick as Dropbox, as it’s hard to imagine a single way it could surpass it. Also intriguing is the possible difficulties in playing nice with OSX.
The big advantage Google could potentially have is if they allow you to add space in smaller increments (and smaller prices) than Dropbox, where the smallest paid upgrade is 50 GB for $100 a year. Now, I don’t have a problem with space in Dropbox at the moment, but it bugs me a bit that the only paid upgrades you can do are both too much money and more space than I need. The ability to add, say, 20 GB for an extra $5 a year would be incredible.
Google Circles breaks two simple rules: simple steps & refusal to learn
There are two rule-type ways of thinking on processes and usability that I’ve come to believe very strongly in.
The first rule is this: the more steps involved in a task, the higher the desire of the user has to be to finish it.
The second rule: if people aren’t interested in learning something or lack incentive to learn it, they won’t learn it, regardless of intelligence.
I’ve been reminded of both these rules time and time again lately because of Google+’s Circles, which breaks both of these.
To be clear, I’m not saying that to use Google+ requires a tech intelligence, or that people are going to reject it because they’re lazy. I’m saying that to force users to make categorical decisions for every single person they add on Google+, and to then have to constantly mull over and edit those categories (rule one) when there isn’t a compelling reason to do so (rule two) is ultimately going to cost them users.
Don’t think of Google+’s success in terms of the tech curious, who have already adopted Plus and will likely stay, or for the technophobic crowd who have a difficult time understanding these things no matter what the payout. Think of those people who were reluctant to use Facebook; the folks that resisted for a long time and then finally got on just because it was the only way they could see pictures or because they felt like they were missing out on a lot, and even while using it every day, still feel kind of unsure about it and could, at any given time, take it or leave it. These are the people that I think Circles is going to have trouble turning into regular users.
Constantly deciding how to neatly categorize everyone in your life is a pain, no matter how much freedom you have to create your own categories and how many categories you can add them to. I actually find it kind of depressing to have to do this. Why should I have to define the people in my life so rigidly? It’s not difficult and it’s not complicated, but it does involve processes and decisions that are odd and annoying enough that they’ll likely to dissuade anyone except those people who are actively interested in using the product or highly value the content they get from it.
Millions of us adore last.fm. Why aren’t Google, Amazon & Apple trying to copy it?
I’m one of the many people who love last.fm. I love getting a view of my listening habits over the course of years, and I love being able to see what my friends have liked and have been listening to lately. There are things about last.fm that I would like to see changed/added, but it’s a great site for music sharing.
And in the days when it was active, I found that the wall page on Lala to be extremely useful: seeing what friends of mine had listened to and liked.
Lala and last.fm
got so close to creating the perfect simple music sharing site. Why is it so hard for Google, Apple and Amazon—companies with more than enough resources to finish the job—to give us something great?
What people want from a social music site:
- To be able to share what their music statistics are (like last.fm)
- To be able to see what their friends are listening to and liking
What I’d love to see is a Facebook-wall type page that can either show only the songs that your friends have liked or show you a constantly updating stream of what your friends are currently listening to. I think that would be extremely addictive.
But the simple would be easy to implement. So why hasn’t anyone done it? Apple even bought Lala and would have easy access to people’s iTunes XML files and yet still failed mightily with Ping. Maybe Google has something up their sleeve for Google Music and Plus, but how tough would it be to, say, have your thumbs up tracks show up in Buzz? Or be able to put what you’re listening to now in Google Music on your profile page?
It’s too simple of an idea for it not to be done better already.
It’s damn smart of Google to launch their social product in the background
The tech blogs are all aBuzz (see what I did there?) about the first peek at Google’s long-time-coming entry into the social field, Google Plus (or, as they awkwardly write it, “Google+”).
Google is being smart here, and that’s not a phrase I’ve used much in the last couple of years. They know that no one’s going to abandon Facebook for something that’s the more of the same except Google, so they seem to be just launching it almost in the background. That is, that they’ll launch it, explain it, and then let people find the uses for it as it, rather than doing some massive product announcement/launch, which will lead to inevitable disappointment.
Now, whether this can be a useful tool is anyone’s guess. Their slick line of “We believe online sharing is broken” is right, or at least close. Social media is in a constant battle to stay interesting, accessible and understandable. It’s possible that Google’s Circles, Hangouts and Sparks will be the next leap forward, but it’s also just as likely (or even more likely) that they’ll just be more confusing Buzz (see what I did there?) words that keep it from ever being adopted.
If there’s one part of it I’m interested in, it’s the Circles. As someone who keeps two separate identities to keep the professional/not-offensive parts of my online personality distinct from my random, swearing, politically-opinionated personality, I would love to see a better way of doing that than the clunky “groups” feature. I have hope, but Google’s policy of being half-baked has dashed my hopes before.
One of the bigger “we’ll see” tech announcements in a while…
Google Music review: good, but still nothing life-changing
My Google Music invite came through a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure what took so long, since they surely would want an internet superstar like me who has ALMOST A DOZEN RSS SUBSCRIBERS to give it a whirl, but whatever. Google, ammiright?
The short story of the pros: it’s pretty slick for something that’s playing from the cloud. The short story of the cons: it still falls well short of what I’m looking for in a cloud music player, which I could also say about Lala’s old player, Amazon’s and even what little I’ve seen of Apple’s offering. I’m picky.
The player itself is actually pretty nice. Songs play quickly and the view switches quickly. Usability is good and intuitive. I’m not sure how I feel about the orange overkill, but overall, the player is probably the smoothest that I’ve seen of any of the cloud music offerings. It’s light years better than Lala’s now-defunct player, but Amazon’s player is pretty quick as well.
You can drag and drop songs within playlists, which is nice. There’s not a way to create automatic playlists like iTunes’ fantastic smart playlists function, but I would guess that feature is coming.
The uploader is extremely slow, but it’s also made me realize that my problem may be in my wireless connection. Other people have reported that they’ve uploaded 1000 or so songs in about half a day or so. It’s taken me days of constant uploading to get to that point. So it’s obviously more than just the uploader software. Still, the uploading is a problem.
Instant Mixes: These (“Instant mixes use a combination of metadata and audio analysis to create playlists that match the mood and style of your selection”) work about as well as the Genius playlists in iTunes, which is to say that they’re basically functional, but their music grouping is pretty substantially flawed. I created a playlist based on Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend”, and it threw in a live version of Gladys Knight and the Pips “I Heard It Through The Grapvine”, but didn’t include Oasis’s “Champagne Supernova”. It seems more like these are just random or based on BPM rather than similar styles of music. It would make more sense just to stick with shuffle play.
Thumbs up/down: There’s been a lot of study that shows that like/dislike options work better than five star ratings, but that’s just for giving feedback. I’m a huge fan of the five star ratings within iTunes as it lets me get much greater control over my playlists, and thumbs up/down isn’t nearly as useful for me. Thumbs down.
Library management. Not great. I’m sure that the ability to view your library as a list or as album covers is coming, but at the moment, you either find an artist or song by doing a lot of scrolling or doing a search, neither of which is ideal.
Other features I’d like to see:
- Different display options, like having a list view of album covers with the songs next to it
- Have a “recently played” auto mix
- Have a way to switch to the song/view currently playing, like iTunes’ ctrl-L
- Have a “date added” column in the view as well as a year column. Basic stuff that I sure hope is coming.
- Something like iTunes DJ: an ongoing, temporary playlist
- Have some sort of social aspect: add friends and see what they’re listening to and liking, a combo of last.fm and Lala’s old social ticker.
Anyone else out there have experiences with Google Music?