In another bout of spring cleaning, Google just recently announced the coming demise of one of their popular apps, Google Reader, among others. And even though it is part of a larger move and a whole string of discontinued apps, the Reader announcement really seemed to stick out and strike a nerve with users. But for those of us who are not among the ranks of Reader users, does this move have any impact on our time online? Actually, it does.

This move speaks volumes to the online masses, and today we are going to breakdown exactly why this move matters. And again, we are not just talking about the user base, or the makers of Feedly and other services that are picking up massive amounts of new users. It matters to us all. This act carries an implication that Google would probably rather us not catch on to.

Between the Lines

There are many elements of this move that exist on the surface. Be they true, or reasons Google gave to save face, we have to look at the explanation that was offered. Citing a decline in use (without putting any actual numbers to it), and even pointing to glitches that recently began cropping up on user’s systems due to the age of the app and growing incompatibility with newer surroundings, Google pushed forward on ordering the death of Reader.
Google reader
But with over half a million users all committed to this app, what constitutes a decline measurable enough to justify killing a service they even tout themselves as having “a loyal following”? This is important, because loyalty is something that most users expect to have some sort of ROI. If nothing else, we expect that loyalty to be rewarded in kind, and for the brand we’ve been so dedicated to, to be dedicated to us too. But when we read between the lines of Google’s new move, we see very little rewarding of this user loyalty.

We see instead, the blade of the guillotine dangling over all of our favorite apps and online based services, never knowing when those holding the rope will become tired and just decide to let it go. Our loyalty only seems to matter to the brand when we are benefiting them and helping to grow their foothold in the market they are attempting to penetrate. It seems we are just numbers, and seen as little more.

Street Cred Equation

A move like this not only highlights the lack of loyalty returns, but it also speaks to credibility. Now with a powerhouse like Google, credibility doesn’t matter as much as it once did. They are no longer just getting started. They are no longer struggling to find alternate avenues to build and increase user engagement and saturation. They still are doing that, but their status no longer means this process is a struggle. For the most part, Google has a solid user base to appeal to for anything new they come up with.
Google Street Cred Equation
So they have to care less about the credibility issues this move will perpetuate, than say a freelancer or smaller business would. ‘Too big to care’ should be the banner they now wave around as they move through the market. For with the backlash pouring in over the decision to do away with Reader, and their determination to move forward, their indifference to user concerns comes through loud and clear. But will it have a measurable impact on their credibility?

With the announcement of the new Google Keep app, we see Google expanding their reach and offering a challenge to the incumbent leader of note taking apps, Evernote. But why should users trust Google to keep this app around once they have let it sit on the shelf for a while? Users can no longer trust that their loyalty and adoption of the Google service will be any sort of guarantee that Google will hold up their end of this unspoken agreement. Their track record, should at some point, begin to tarnish their reputation. And we may have just witnessed that very moment through Reader’s discontinuation.

This has set the proverbial clock ticking in the minds of many a user. And it has us asking, just how long until the clock runs out on our other favorite Google apps? There is no trust anymore. Sure Wave was a hint of this, but it was not used as widely as Reader. Google has effectively shown a lack of respect for the users who helped elevate their brand, and have now turned more users against them. I am not alone in thinking this way in the wake of Reader’s untimely death.

The Wal-Mart Model

As their credibility comes into question, so do their motives. Especially as they begin competing with others in various areas of our online lives. Rather than working with existing models and companies to integrate their technologies, they opt for the route of direct competition. And given their size and market share, this can have a very David and Goliath feel to it.

In short, it feels like the Wal-Mart model of moving into areas where they upset and disrupt the local markets. Effectively drying up the local businesses in competition, until only Wal-Mart remains. ‘Do no evil’ can’t follow in suit if they begin acting like the Wal-Mart of the online digital apps world and try to dominate every market until the competition disappears in their wake.

walmart logo

And given the reputation hit they have just taken, users have no reason to trust that if they did kill off the competition, that they would still stick around and keep their services running.

The Ripples

As with any large disruption on the surface, there are ripples to this action that reach beyond Google, and have users concerned about the other areas of their online lives. What about other online services we rely on that aren’t run by a powerhouse like Google? Or even those that are? What does this say about the stability and life of those services? How can we trust that tomorrow, any of our online routines will remain in place? Honestly, we can’t.

And what does this say about the cloud that so many tout as the way forward? What kind of lifespan can we expect of those services? How long before the clouds part way and dissipate? This move leaves us with a lot to consider that is for sure. Which is why this act should carry weight with all of those who ‘live’ so much of our lives online. And who rely on our usage and adoption of these technologies to hold weight, and provide us with some sort of guarantee of access to our most treasured and used apps.

Reader reminds us that online services and entities have a lifespan. And we have no control over when that lifespan will expire.