Sunday, March 24, 2013

The End of Google Reader and the Future of Blogging

For those who use it, Google's announcement that it's killing off Google Reader is probably a bit of a surprise. After all, with the simplification of the Reader shortly after the introduction of Google Plus, it seemed like it was in a pretty easily supported maintenance mode. But... there's no profit, and no future, in maintenance mode products.

The actual announcement has resulted in some reactions that are, oh, perhaps a bit over-the-top. The idea that you won't use a new Google product because an older one you like is being phased out is superficially understandable, but the fact is that even products that are immensely profitable for a company can eventually become obsolete. There's nowhere you can go in the online world with certainty that the product you know and love won't be discontinued, in some form of maintenance mode, or suddenly and dramatically reinvented into something you barely recognize.

What Google's action says to me is that people are continuing to shift from using RSS feeds to follow blogs and news sources and toward other means of aggregating content or finding interesting links. Yes, the skeptics are likely correct that Google wants Reader users to shift over to Google Plus, even if it doesn't offer the same functionality. But I suspect that the biggest issue for Google is that people truly are shifting away from Reader, and although those of us who use Reader may find it extremely useful, we're a shrinking minority of Internet users.

My personal reaction to the news was two-fold. First, it's difficult to monetize RSS feeds, so people have been pretty passive about pushing them on the public. Second, people are shifting away from blogging, as such, and are switching over to more casual or less time-intensive means of sharing their thoughts or keeping in touch with friends. The push toward Google Plus is not just about use our new product, not our old one, it's consistent with a general shift away from blogging.
Although the numbers are approximate, blogger is shown by as being down by more than 2 million unique visitors per month over the course of a year, more than 40% of its traffic. Although the drop-off on blogspot (the URL that serves blogs hosted by Google) is less significant,
If the content is being created elsewhere, eventually the traffic will go there as well.

I am left wondering about the future of blogging. I've never seen blogs as much more than a simple CMS (content management system) that allows people to easily publish content, albeit in a somewhat constrained format. It's treated a bit differently than other content by search engines - on the whole, it appears to be treated as being of shorter-term interest so, although a page can generate authority by drawing in links or hitting a sweet spot for search terms, for the most part blog posts are lost to time. I haven't spent enough time browsing blogs in general to see whether blogs are becoming "more serious" - whether on the whole it's the lighter, more casual conduct is what's drifting off to other mediums. If it is, then perhaps blogging will ultimately evolve into something more serious. But if the trend is across-the-board, it's quite possible that conventional blogging platforms will go the way of livejournal - once an Internet phenomenon that remains significant, but... appears to have lost about half of its traffic over the past year.
One way or another, if public interest is plummeting and the future lies in another direction, major companies are going to shift their resources in the new direction - and eventually will discontinue their support for the dying platforms. If it worries you that because Google discontinues one product it might later discontinue another, you're right - it could happen. But unless you're content to limit yourself to what you save on your own hard drive, that's true of any company and product. If you are going to grouse, "I won't use Google Keep because Google is killing Reader", great... and are you switching your phone to Apple, a company that has at times killed products and services, Microsoft, a company that has also at times killed products and services, or RIM/Blackberry, a company that is in danger of being unable to support its proprietary mobile OS?

If you're posting your complaint on a blog, as I intimate above, you may be missing the forest for the trees.

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