Today Google Reader became the latest Google product to have Plus added to it. Now Google Reader users can +1 or share items to Google Plus, from within Reader. Google has made very clear over the past month that Plus will be integrated into all of Google’s products over time, so this wasn’t a surprising move. However, rather predictably, there has been a user backlash anyway. Writing on his G+ profile, Google Plus Marketing Manager and long-time RSS expert Louis Gray tried to assure everyone that they have choices: “We know that for some people, the changes to Reader will make you think differently about the product, and this may make you seek alternatives.”
But are there in fact any viable alternatives to Google Reader?
I believe that comment was a little disingenuous from Gray, because he knows that Google dominates what’s left of the RSS Reader market. There are always alternatives, but the reality is that relatively few people will use them. What’s more, most of the alternatives rely on Google Reader for content.
So Google knows full well that most people will either stick with Google Reader, or still have a connection to it. If users do stick with Reader (by far the most likely scenario), they will use Plus a lot more now that it’s the only way to share.
RSS Readers Ain’t What They Used To Be
This is another key turning point for RSS Readers, perhaps the final innovation in this long struggling market. No longer are RSS Readers independent products with their own devoted, reading-focused users – or “word-y people” as one Google Reader fan described them on my G+ profile.
Sure, the writing was already on the wall. Formally popular consumer RSS Readers like Bloglines and Newsgator have by now either disappeared, morphed into new products, or became focused on markets that will pay for them (which usually means the enterprise market).
The RSS Reader market has declined because reading content is a very fragmented experience these days. That was my conclusion even back in 2009, when I cited the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Nearly two years later and the fragmentation has only multiplied. As well as Twitter and Facebook, there are tablet-focused apps such as Flipboard and News.me, services like Instapaper and ReadItLater which make it even easier to read articles on mobile devices, and newly popular social services – like Google Plus.
Where To Now For The Google Reader Community? Google Plus Of Course…
Even despite all of the changes in the way people consume content on the Web, Google Reader had been the holdout as a specialist RSS Reader product. It has (had?) a passionate community of RSS Reader fanatics.
While RSS reading as an activity will continue in Google Reader, as of today the sharing features have been “retired” and moved to Google Plus. Also the note-taking features. And because almost all community activity happens on social networks – like Google Plus – that effectively spells the end of any real innovation in the RSS Reader market.
So what of these supposed alternatives to Google Reader? In fact, many of them rely on Google Reader. Google Reader powers – or its content can be plugged into – a number of the products that have forced the likes of Bloglines and Newsgator out of the consumer RSS market. Services like Flipboard for the iPad (Google Reader is one content input option) and Feedly (multi-platform, but one of its core features is that it syncs with Google Reader).
So even if Google Reader users migrate to another product, they’ll likely still be connected to Google Reader in some way.
May As Well Get Used To It
Louis Gray positioned the changes today as giving Google Reader users more granular ways to share things, by way of the circles feature of Plus. So, for example, you might share a technology post in Google Reader to your “Tech Friends” circle. That does sounds appealing to me. And already in my tests I’ve seen how easy it is to share things from Google Reader to Plus.
So for people like me, where Google Plus is my (Google-related) social network anyway, the Reader changes are a positive thing. As for Google Reader’s avid fans, I feel for them – they have lost some beloved features. But they will simply have to get used to the changes, because there are no real alternatives left in the consumer RSS Reader market.