Google Reader is used and loved by a very loud – and as some would no doubt say, very influential – core user group. Any app builder would kill for this following – any social entrepreneur would walk a thousand miles for this crowd. And make no mistake, Google Reader is something of an important public accommodation, a real point of differentiation for a company whose motto is “don’t be evil.” Google was doing a public service for the news and blogger community by keeping Reader going. Understandably, the Reader shutdown [is being] received not just as the end of an era but almost as an attack on those who count on it for traffic and attention.
Drew Olanoff pins the blame on RSS’s lack of consumer appeal:
I’ve heard many smart people try to explain RSS to normal folks, such as “turning content into television stations, allowing you to subscribe only to what you want to consume.” That one didn’t work. Neither did any other explanation, because RSS as a technology is too nerdy, too behind-the-scenes and lacked general consumer appeal. Nobody ever took RSS under its wing and “mentored” it. In essence, Twitter is a big RSS reader, allowing you to “follow” the people sharing content that you’d like to consume. That simple concept of following gripped, but subscribing to feeds simply did not, at least how Google Reader and other popular readers let you do it.
Zooming out, Alex Kantrowitz argues that Reader’s demise is proof that no service on the Internet is forever:
The death of Google Reader reveals a problem of the modern Internet that many of us likely have in the back of our heads but are afraid to let surface: We are all participants in a user driven Internet, but we are still just the users, nothing more. No matter how much work we put in to optimize our online presences, our tools and our experiences, we are still at the mercy of big companies controlling the platforms we operate on. When they don’t like what’s happening, even if we do, they can make whatever call they want. And Wednesday night, Google made theirs.
Yglesias hopes that Google Reader’s death will spur innovation:
Google Reader wasn’t a viable business that Google was investing in and improving. If anything, they were making it worse in flailing efforts to integrate it into a real business strategy. But it was essentially impossible to compete with them either. They were the 800-pound gorilla in the RSS space, but like a hobbled 800-pound gorilla that wasn’t going anywhere.
Marco Arment argues along the same lines:
It may suck in the interim before great alternatives mature and become widely supported, but in the long run, trust me: this is excellent news.
Meanwhile, Whitson Gordon rounds up some alternatives for the soon-to-be Reader-less.