The Ballad of the Stranded Google Reader User

When Google announced it was shutting down the popular Google Reader app last week, many were angry about the forced change. But is there a silver lining here?

Sometimes, to help something grow, you have to let go. But what happens when people aren’t ready to do that?

Last week’s reports on the demise of Google Reader hit a lot of tech-savvy association execs pretty hard, and understandably so. It’s the tech world equivalent of Arrested Development getting canceled: The cult’s so big, you wonder if it’s going to bite Google in the end.

In the wake of the news, I asked a couple of association-world folks their takes on the issue, which has raised passions online.

Freelance writer Deirdre Reid doesn’t mince words about what the app meant to her:

And the American Chemical Society’s Chris McCarthy was equally disappointed by the move, calling Google Reader his main tool:

So, what’s a Reader addict to do? Let’s talk about what we can learn here.

RSS Isn’t Dead Yet

In tech circles, the messages after Google Reader’s demise are all over the map. Some have pointed out that it could be the best thing for RSS, as it encourages innovation that’s long been dormant in this field.

“Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative,” says Instapaper founder Marco Arment. “We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.”

Already, we’re seeing alternatives rise from the ashes. Digg (remember that?) has its eye on this. The iOS app Zite has already knocked something out.

And the RSS technology company Superfeedr notes that, even if Google Reader faces death, many millions of sites still use RSS (including this one and every other site powered by WordPress), and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

Next time, please pay a fair price for the services you depend on. Those have a better chance of surviving the bubbles.

On the Other Hand …

Could this be the kind of thing that encourages association bloggers to branch out even further into the tested-but-muddy waters of social media?

No, I’m not saying running a Twitter or Facebook account and posting news updates—you should be doing that already. I’m saying that perhaps it’s time to take to heart that these changes are happening and you may need to find new ways to become more fluent in social media.

Chamber consultant Frank Kenny recently posted a piece on the awkwardness that comes with using social media. He’s got some great points here. We have to get our comfort level up, because even though not everyone is there yet, it’s growing in importance.

Perhaps now is the time to move past what’s worked in the past. That’s the argument some tech types, like GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram, are making.

Even if you disagree, now seems like as good a time as any to learn new habits to replace the old ones. Use it to learn the lay of the land. Use it to improve outreach. Treat social media like learning a new language. Because, in a way, it is a new language. With enough practice, it becomes second nature.

A Deeper Lesson

So many crevices of our digital lives rely on free services like Google Reader, and when these things break, we’re left holding the bag.

Dave Winer, one of the creators of the RSS technology, spoke to this issue, offering this advice to tech users: “Next time, please pay a fair price for the services you depend on. Those have a better chance of surviving the bubbles.”

Sound familiar? It certainly does to me; I argued on this very issue back in October, when another still-endangered RSS service owned by Google, Feedburner, faced rumors of its imminent demise. My argument pointed the finger at the organizations that create popular services, then kill them with no recourse.

Winer is speaking from the other perspective: Don’t expect anything that you don’t pay for to stick around forever. Create worthwhile value that people want.

(This has a clear association tie, by the way: Just ask Joe Rominiecki about this.)

Our products likely aren’t as prevalent as Google Reader, but they create significant value. Next time you think about dropping something, think about how it affects your members. Think about the alternatives to killing it off entirely.

And think about whether it’s holding you back from greatness.

(Associations Now illustration)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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