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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Customer feedback on Google Reader shutdown - is Blogger next?

Google Reader home page set up for low vision reader Thomas Kraemer in Microsoft Internet Explorer window

PHOTO: screen shot of Google Reader home page set up for a low vision reader, Thomas Kraemer, in a Microsoft Internet Explorer browser window. It summarizes all of my RSS subscriptions and how many items I have not read yet. For example, RSS feeds from various bloggers and a RSS subscription to the U.S. Treasury Department's page that announces new Treasury Bonds being offered for sale.

Google Reader home page set up for low vision reader Thomas Kraemer in Microsoft Internet Explorer window

PHOTO: screen shot of Google Reader set up for a low vision reader, Thomas Kraemer, to read the full text RSS feed from his local city newspaper. The newspaper's Web site is nearly impossible to read for a low vision person compared to the simple reformatted text that Google Reader provides. Also, Google Reader overcomes having to continuously go back to the Web site and check for new stories because Google Reader keeps track of what is read and not read. All users of Google Reader can click on the headline to open the original Web page and see it fully formatted with other page content, if they are interested in the story, otherwise you can skip to the next feed item. Web sites are smart to provide an RSS feed, which costs them almost nothing, because it will drive more traffic to their site and therefore generate more ad revenue, because more readers will spot interesting content while scanning their RSS feed everyday. In fact, RSS feeds might save Websites money because users do not have to constantly reload Web pages constantly to see if there is anything new.

As a loyal Google customer and the owner of a large number of shares of Google stock, I was shocked to see how poorly managed the shutting down of Google Reader has been.

I have decades of experience shutting down products at Silicon Valley's most successful granddaddy and the rule I learned there was to never ask a customer to shop for another service provider, unless you were willing to lose all of the profits the customer gives your company through your other products and services.

For example, I was about to invest big in the Google Android ecosystem, but I am now holding off my decision because I am wondering, if Google killed Google Reader, will they kill Blogger next? More important, will Google ever support the core user need met by Google Rader in any of their other products, and if not, then why would I want to use incomplete Google services?

The second rule I learned was to always provide your customer with a way he can use your other products to meet his needs, even if this means you have to do some engineering upgrades to your other products. Otherwise, the customer will be forced to go shopping and they will very likely abandon all of your products, even the ones you want to keep selling.

Brusquely telling the customer, like Google Reader did, to use their "Google Takeout" program for moving to a competing service is better than providing nothing, but it also tells your customer that they shouldn't count on you for anything in the future.

As a Google stockholder, I fully understand and support Google's stated purpose and strategy of focusing on fewer products by shutting down low usage products in order to free up engineering resources for newer and more profitable programs. However, the core user needs met by Google Rader will not go away and therefore Google is being crazy to risk telling customers to go elsewhere for a core need.

I hope some more mature and experienced managers at Google will recover from this misstep. There was another recent example of Google making this type of misstep and then recovering when Gmail brusquely told users their email would be shut down because they were using an obsolete browser and must upgrade to Chrome to avoid their computer from being infected by a security hole. After more mature managers at Google evaluated this approach, which at the best looked like a tacky attempt to move people from Microsoft IE to Google Chrome, Google changed to saying they were not going to build new features for older browsers and users signing into Gmail with an obsolete browser would be redirected to the lower featured standard Gmail or HTML only Gmail interface, which poses no added security risk. Google would be crazy not to support forever through theses standards.

Some related links about the Google Reader shut down and obsolescence: