November 01, 2009

Why I Wouldn't Accept $25k To Stop Using Google Reader

Cross-Posted on my Ecademy Blog and Shared Here

Information is power - and the ability to take in more information more quickly than anybody else, all in one place, is an incredible power. The Web has been built to enable all of us to share and distribute information quickly, through new posts and links.

Tools like RSS (Real Simple Syndication) let us pass information from one site to another, letting you get updates in a single location - be it to your favorite blog posts, your favorite news and sport sites, or simply updates from friends' videos on YouTube and updates on Flickr. RSS Readers capture updates from all these RSS feeds in one application or on one Web site. In my opinion, the very best RSS reader is Google Reader. It has become such a mainstay of my online activity that I've determined its value to me is easily in the tens of thousands of dollars per year.

I thought I would let you know why I would be so crazy as to proclaim that if somebody offered me $25,000 to stop using Google Reader for a year, that I would refuse.

A little background:

1. I Have Relied on RSS to Send Me Updates For Years.

A 2006 post showed screenshots from my use of NetNewsWire to track updates on sports, tech news and politics. At the time, I called it "A Demanding Mistress", because if I subscribed to a lot of high quantity feeds, I would be constantly receiving updates.

2. In late 2006, I switched to Google Reader as my RSS reader of choice.

In November of 2006, while the product was in Google Labs, I called it a formidable RSS option. Benefits to the new Web-based Reader were mainly:
  • I could subscribe to the same feeds on multiple computers and avoid duplicates
  • I could share my favorite items to a dedicated link blog
3. In early 2007, I suggested 10 ways Google Reader could improve.

I loved the service, but thought I would provide feedback in a public way. Surprisingly, a member of the Google Reader engineering team responded in the comments:
"Funnily enough, the Reader team just had a big all-day brainstorming session about where to go next, and ideas similar to many of your suggestions were discussed."
This was a huge deal for me, as I had the first experience of talking to companies and getting a response.

4. Google Reader Continued to Add Functions Over the Last Two Years

In addition to reading and sharing, Google Reader added the ability to "like" entries, and to add comments to shared items that you were subscribed to. The service also introduced the ability to "bundle" your favorite feeds and point people to them to subscribe in bulk, as well as integrating better tools for discovery of feeds, and trends data, showing how often you read and what your favorite feeds are.

Over time, more than 1,000 people have subscribed to my shared items feed, and these people can have conversations with me. Sometimes, as I noted in this post, there are more comments on Google Reader than there are on the original blog posts itself. Despite Google Reader's protests to the contrary, it is becoming a social network.

5. Google Reader Feeds Everything I Do Downstream

Data comes in and data comes out. I now read more than 700 feeds, comprising between 900 and 1,000 items per day. I hand select about 25 to 30 of those items each day to share to the link blog. This link blog then populates downstream social networks, including FriendFeed, Socialmedian and Facebook. Additionally, I set up my feed so that it populates Twitter. You can see that dedicated account for my shared items here:

See What I am Reading in Google Reader

See What I am Sharing in Google Reader

See My Friends' Statistics in Google Reader

You can see Google Reader plays an incredible role for me in terms of information discovery and sharing. There is no single service that lets me get all this information so quickly, so completely and so centralized. Yet, naysayers argue that blogging is declining or that Twitter is becoming their place to find news, and it's simply not complete. Twitter consists of headlines and links, while Google Reader consists of content in its entirety. And with RSS being a standard, you can bring in RSS from other services, including Twitter, into your Google Reader, should you be so interested.

And if you don't want to read so many feeds, as I do, Google recently introduced a feature called "Magic", which brings those articles you are most likely to enjoy to the top of your feed. Maybe, assuming it is coded well for you, you can read a much smaller percentage of your stories and get all you need.

The more I thought about the recent debate on Google Reader, the more I realized that there can be no substitute. There are other RSS readers, to be sure. Some are very good. But to migrate away from Google Reader would lose my personal history and preferences. It would eliminate the social connections that have been cultivated for years. It would also very likely be much slower and lack the feature set that Reader does. I determined that if somebody approached me with a check for $25,000 US to give up using Reader for 12 months, I would decline. $25,000 is a lot of money, no doubt, but to lose access to this product would be debilitating to me. You can expect to also see new ways for me to leverage the work I have done within this Google Reader platform before the end of the year that will further explain the financial elements involved.

When I first made such a crazy statement, somebody in the Google Reader comments jokingly said, "I think it would be fascinating to read a business plan that involves paying Louis Gray $100,000 to stop using Google Reader." But they understand. You cannot replace the best, an engine that pushes everything forward.

Are there other services you use where you couldn't be paid to stop? Or what's your price?

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