GOOGLE READER IS GONE ; What does it mean for you and me?
GOOGLE RECENTLY announced that it is sun-setting its web-based aggregator capable of reading Atom and RSS feeds online or offline. While it has been around since 2005, Google has not been updating it as regularly as its other products. It also happens to be a free service, which does not provide a major revenue stream to Google. It has a loyal following, but its user base has never become viral and grown as other flagship products of Google like YouTube, Google+ (yes it is growing with 400M subscribers). In fact, Google Reader’s average user profile is more likely to be a technology geek, not an ordinary man on the street. And user habits have changed. People prefer to get their news from Twitter or Facebook, where the social sharing nature of the news makes it more interesting and filtered. You get news with comments from friends and people whose opinions you respect when you go to Twitter or Facebook. Twitter Lists makes our information gathering even more elegant as it lets you make a curated group of Twitter users. No wonder users have moved away from Google Reader.
The pace of change in the technology world, especially software, and to an extent even hardware, has become brutal. Hardware is becoming more mobile and portable, while the software is becoming more social and cloud based. We are moving quickly to ipads from laptops. We consume music via Spotify, which tells us what our friends have been listening to, while only a few years back we were on CDs. What these trends tell us is that new technology adoption is quicker and faster than it has ever been. The new-generation user is very comfortable shifting to new ways of communicating, working, and entertaining, as he has grown up in the world at a time when change is the new normal. Examples abound - employees and employers, who were on Job boards like Monster just a couple of years back, have now moved rapidly to LinkedIn. In fact, the job boards look virtually Jurassic today. Look at what is happening to the photo sharing space. Photo networks, like Instagram, Tumblr, Google+, have taken over how we share pictures. Cameras have given way to smart phones. Successful next-generation companies like Google and Facebook understand this better than older companies like Microsoft or even a Yahoo!
That is why we see that they are ruthless when it comes to killing products. New products and new versions are introduced and tested real time. Products and features that do not make it get withdrawn as quickly as they were introduced. Google has already shuttered many other services like Google Wave, iGoogle, Google Desktop, Google Buzz, Google Gears, and even Google Labs. Mark Zuckerberg is famous for keeping Facebook in a state of permanent Beta. Facebook introduced FaceBook Questions, a feature equivalent to Yahoo Answers, which has disappeared. Similarly Facebook killed its first location-based offering “Places” within a year of its launch. Of course, in all these cases, these companies introduce the same functionality in a better and more popular way under a different name and place. Facebook location feature now tells you where you were, where you are, and where you are going next, instead of just “checking in”. Same way, Google is hoping that its Reader users will shift to Google+, and use it to read and share news in a more social way. They believe their users will adapt quickly to the change, and rightly so.
Nassim Taleb, world-renowned thinker, and author of the book The Black Swan , has an interesting theory that could describe what we are seeing in the technology world. In his most recent book Antifragile – Things that gain from Disorder, he says that the only way to succeed in a world where random, unpredictable events disrupt all calculations, is to learn how to thrive and become stronger in the midst of shocks.
Perhaps the Googles of the world have understood this well. They are proving, time and again, that they can shock their internal and external stakeholders with events such as this announcement about Google Reader. In the process of doing so, they get better and better at culling products that are past their prime, and reinventing themselves time and again.
No wonder then, that Taleb believes that the only anti-fragile systems now are Silicon Valley and the New York restaurant industry! Both are highly innovative, and are characterized by high levels of failure and upside. What it means is that great success can only be achieved by heuristic trial-and-error, not stability. Is there a lesson here for you and me too?
Think. The days of one career, one job and a straight corporate ladder are over. Today we too need to reinvent ourselves many times over by trying and failing often so that we can be anti-fragile.