You're probably scratching your head at the sudden explosion of stories about the imminent death of Google Reader. After all, most people have never used it, and even fewer know what it's for.
Here's a quick history lesson, a look at how and why Google Reader got canceled, and a word of warning to anyone using Google's free services.
What people used before Twitter
That's basically what Google Reader was, back in the day. Except that instead of following people on Twitter, you could set it to "follow" pretty much anything on the Web.
It used a technology called RSS, or "Really Simple Syndication." Pretty much every website you go to nowadays still uses it, and there's often a button you can press to subscribe to that site using RSS. Google Reader became more popular than offline RSS readers because you could get to it from anywhere, and it would keep track of which stories you'd read. You could also share favorite stories with friends, Twitter-style, and watch which stories your friends shared.
The day Google Reader died
For many, that was Halloween in 2011, when Google unveiled changes that basically made Google Reader obsolete. Pretty much all of the social and sharing functions were stripped out of it, and replaced with the ability to "+1" a story on Google+.
After having its community gutted this way, "usage of Google Reader … declined," according toGoogle's blog post where it announced Google Reader's closure yesterday. "As a company," Google engineer Alan Green wrote, "we're pouring all of our energy into fewer products" -- meaning, in this case, Google+.
Why Google is pushing Google+ so hard
In a word, Facebook. The things you share and "Like" on Facebook can't be indexed by Google's search engine, and Google can't run ads on Facebook. Google execs are nervous about this, especially with how big Facebook is getting. So Google is trying to push its answer to Facebook, Google+, on pretty much everyone who signed up for its other sites. Like Gmail, YouTube, and (in 2011) Google Reader.
Why the service you love may be in trouble
Besides Google's taking a "more wood behind fewer arrows" approach to its sites now, its newfound emphasis on Google+ means that anything which doesn't tie in to it -- or otherwise raise money for Google, like Gmail and Google Drive -- may be in danger of being closed too.
Google Reader isn't the only thing Google is closing down this time, at any rate, and it's not the first time Google's done "spring cleaning" on its properties.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.
- Social & Online Media