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Original author: 
Liz Gannes

Google has warned that it will shut down its Google Reader news aggregator July 1. Many people (myself very much included) are mourning a beloved and useful product, but the company cited declining usage.

funeral

Shutterstock/Yuri Arcurs

Under CEO Larry Page, Google has made a practice of “spring cleaning” throughout all the seasons so it can narrow its focus. Reader was just a another bullet point on the latest closure list.

But the shutdown wasn’t just a matter of company culture and bigger priorities, sources said. Google is also trying to better orient itself so that it stops getting into trouble with repeated missteps around compliance issues, particularly privacy.

That means every team needs to have people dedicated to dealing with these compliance and privacy issues — lawyers, policy experts, etc. Google didn’t even have a product manager or full-time engineer responsible for Reader when it was killed, so the company didn’t want to add in the additional infrastructure and staff, the sources said.

But at the same time, Google Reader was too deeply integrated into Google Apps to spin it off and sell it, like the company did last year with its SketchUp 3-D modeling software.

The context for this concern about compliance is Google’s repeated public failures on privacy due to lack of oversight and coordination. It’s pretty clear why Page is trying to run a tighter ship.

Regulators have had ample reasons to go after the company. Google recently paid $7 million to settle with U.S. attorneys general over its years-long international Street View Wi-Fi incident, while agreeing to more closely police its employees. And last summer the company paid $22.5 million for breaking the terms of its U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreement over informing users accurately about privacy practices when it used a trick to install ad cookies for users of Apple’s Web browser Safari.

In the Wi-Spy case, after repeatedly downplaying the incident, Google ultimately disclosed that an engineer had devised the drive-by plan to collect user data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks, and had easily passed it through rubber-stamp approval processes.

In the Safari bypass case, Google said it was just trying to check whether users were logged into Google+, and any resulting tracking was inadvertent and no personal information was collected. Ultimately, what the company was held accountable for was having an out-of-date help page — an even more basic slip-up.

While it might not be obvious how Google Reader could be compromised by similar lapses — perhaps policies could fall out of date, or user RSS subscription lists could be exposed — the point is that Google wasn’t willing to commit to ensuring that it was well-run.

So how many users would Google Reader need to make it a valuable enough product to be worthy of investment and a real team?

A petition to save Reader on Change.org has nearly 150,000 signatures. That’s clearly not enough.

Google wouldn’t disclose how many users the product had, but Flipboard CEO Mike McCue told me yesterday that two million people have connected their Google Reader accounts to the Flipboard visual news apps. So you have to imagine it’s probably an order of magnitude larger than two million.

(By the way, many people involved with the product agree that it wasn’t just tech news fanatics who loved the service, but politics junkies and mommy bloggers and anyone who likes to mainline fresh content from their preferred outlets.)

Nick Baum, one of the original Reader product managers who’s no longer at Google, noted that in the early days of the product there were “several millions” of weekly active users.

In a conversation this weekend, Baum said, ”My sense is, if it’s a consumer product at Google that’s not making money, unless it’s going to get to 100 million users it’s not worth doing.”

But Baum left the team in 2007 — before the rise of Twitter — and he notes Google never put the resources in to do things like help new Google Reader users find feeds to follow and parse the most interesting content from high-volume outlets.

The irony, Baum said, is that if Google Reader were out seeking venture funding in Silicon Valley with its high-value audience, it most likely would have gotten it. “As a startup they would have been perfectly viable,” he said. Not to mention, startups don’t have to worry about compliance issues.

“Someday someone will do something in this space that will work,”  Baum said. “And maybe then Google will buy them.”

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NewsBlur survives a traffic surge after news of Google Reader’s pending demise gets around.
Image: NewsBlur.

One of the more interesting stories to emerge from the demise of Google Reader is that of NewsBlur, a previously small, but very nice, open source alternative RSS reader.

NewsBlur is a one-man operation that was humming along quite nicely, but when Google announced Reader would shutdown, NewsBlur saw a massive traffic spike — in a few short days NewsBlur more than doubled its user base. How NewsBlur developer Samuel Clay handled the influx of new users should be required reading for anyone working on a small site without loads of funding and armies of developers.

“I was able to handle the 1,500 users who were using the service everyday,” writes Clay, “but when 50,000 users hit an uncachable and resource intensive backend, unless you’ve done your homework and load tested the living crap out of your entire stack, there’s going to be trouble brewing.”

Having tested NewsBlur a few times right after Google announced Reader was closing, I can vouch for the fact that there were times when the site was reduced to a crawl, but it came back to life remarkably quickly for a one-man operation.

In his postmortem, Clay details the moves he had to make to keep NewsBlur functioning under the heavy load — switching to new servers, adding a new mailing service (which then accidentally mailed Clay 250,000 error reports) and other moments of rapid, awkward growth.

It’s also worth noting that Clay credits the ability to scale to his premium subscription model, writing that, “the immediate benefits of revenue have been very clear over the past few days.”

As for the future, Clay says he plans to work on “scaling, scaling, scaling,” launching a visual refresh (which you can preview at dev.newsblur.com) and listening to feedback from the service’s host of new users.

If you’re looking for a Google Reader replacement, give NewsBlur a try. There’s a free version you can test out (the number of feeds is limited). A premium account runs $24/year and you can also host NewsBlur on your own server if you prefer.

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Feedly_large

Google's controversial decision to shut down Google Reader on July 1st has left its users searching for a new news-collecting homeland, and we now have an idea of the scale of the RSS diaspora. Feedly has announced that more than half a million Google Reader users have signed up for its RSS service following Google's service termination announcement on Wednesday. Feedly also says it's working to keep up with its growth, increasing bandwidth by 10 times and adding new servers. Moving forward, the developers say its main priorities over the next 30 days are to keep the service running, to solicit suggestions from new users, and to add new features on a weekly basis.

The Google Reader shutdown will force users and developers of third-party...

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Google's sudden decision to sunset Reader — perhaps the best-known RSS reader ever made — has been met with swift reaction from high-profile users across the web. Here's a sampling of people asking to save an RSS service on Google... all coming from the service that probably helped kill it in the first place: Twitter.

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About three years ago, I shared 37 data-ish blogs you should know about, but a lot has changed since then. Some blogs are no longer in commission, and lots of new blogs have sprung up (and died).

Today, I went through my feed reader again, and here's what came up. Coincidentally, 37 blogs came up again. (Update: added two I forgot, so 39 now.) I'm subscribed to a lot more than this since I don't unsubscribe to dried up feeds. But this list is restricted to blogs that have updated in the past two months and are at least four months old.

Design and Aesthetics

  • information aesthetics — By Andrew Vande Moere, the first blog I found on visualization five something years ago.
  • Well-formed data — Another one of the oldies but goodies. The blog of Moritz Stefaner, known for lots of projects around these parts
  • blprnt.blg — Blog of Jer Thorp, who has recently been on a github binge. See also blprnt.tmblr
  • Fathom — Ben Fry-run studio talks about interesting things
  • feltron — Nicholas Felton's tumblr with quick bits of delight
  • Tulp Inspiration — Another tumblr, this one run by Jan Willem Tulp

Statistical and Analytical Visualization

Journalism

General Visualization

Maps

Data and Statistics

That's what I read. Your turn.

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First time accepted submitter X10 writes "Google announced some time ago that they want only developers to attend their Google IO conference. They hinted at developing a 'programming test' that you have to pass before you can register. Now, they have introduced the Input Output machine at the same time they announced that Google IO registration will open on March 27. I take it that registrations will be ordered according to the quality of one's IO machine. Cute idea ..."


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