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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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About

“Reply Girls”, are female YouTubers who are known for uploading videos in response to an already popular or trending video in an attempt to capitalize on the high view counts. They typically use sexually suggestive thumbnails, often with prominently exposed cleavage, to solicit views.

Origin

Canadian YouTuber Alejandra Gaitan created a new YouTube channel titled “thereplygirl”[2] on July 18th, 2011, where she began uploading videos using thumbnails showing exposed cleavage (shown below, left) as replies to up-and-coming YouTube videos. On August 9th, 2011, YouTuber Chrissie Barmore who goes by her YouTube name MeganLeeHeart[1] created the “MeganSpeaks”[6] YouTube channel, in which she began uploading reply videos with similar exposed-cleavage thumbnails of arrows pointing at her chest (shown below, right), and bragging that she is the first and original reply girl, although there is no proof or evidence of her claim. Within seven months, the channel received over 10 million views, thousands of negative comments, and thousands of dislikes.

Spread

On February 11th, 2012, YouTuber icklenellierose uploaded a video titled “Dear Reply Girls” (shown below, left), in which she criticizes the trend for being annoying and obtrusive. On February 15th, YouTuber Skweezy followed suit by calling for YouTube viewers to boycott reply girls videos (shown below, right). Within one year, the video received over 1.1 million views and 8,600 comments.

On Feburary 23rd, a thread titled “Reply girls’ ruining YouTube” was posted to the forums for the Minecraft podcast Yogscast.[4] The original poster argued that the reply girl videos were actually spam and thereby violate the YouTube terms of service against “misleading descriptions, tags, titles or thumbnails in order to increase views.” The same day, a rage comic about reply girl videos (shown below) was submitted to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) gamer subreddit /r/gaymers.[8] On February 24th, The Daily Dot[3] published an article describing the reply girl phenomenon as “Tittiepocalypse” and commented on the use of cleavage photos in thumbnails as well as the growing backlash against the videos.

MeganLeeHeart Controversy

On February 23rd, 2012, YouTuber blogger HappyCabbie[14] published a post titled “MeganLeeHeart threatens to have someone killed,” which included embedded screen shots of a message from Heart threatening another YouTuber with violence if they copied her video descriptions. Two days later, YouTuber cheekizms uploaded a video featuring footage from Heart’s old SkitsNVlogs web series and messages showing Heart threatening other users with physical harm (shown below, left).

On March 5th, 2012, The Daily Dot[30] reported that Heart had been accused of working with accomplice and boyfriend Brian Martin, also known as LifeInATent[15][32], to use bots to take out competitor reply girls videos, along with death threats and a screenshot of an e-mail sales receipt for “540K YouTube Viral Views” billed to Brian Martin (shown below). On May 16th, The Daily Dot[31] ran an interview with reply girl Alejandra Gaiten, who claimed Heart threatened to release her personally identifying information and physically harm her.

Anti-Reply Girl Script

On February 26th, 2012, a “YouTube Anti Replygirls” script was submitted to the hosting site Userscripts.org[7], which allowed users to remove known reply girls videos from their YouTube pages, including lauratickled[11], supercomicbookgirl[12] and bot accounts like JessicaReview.[13]

Official Complaints

On February 27th, 2012, a Change.org[5] petition was created urging Google and YouTube to take a stance against the video spam. Within 24 hours the petition had received over 3,000 signatures. Several complaint threads have been created on the YouTube Help[9] forum calling for the service to put an end to the reply girls videos on the site.

Notable Videos

Search Interest

External References

[1]YouTube – MeganLeeHeart

[2]YouTube – TheReplyGirl

[3]Daily Dot – YouTube or boob tube? Reply Girls scandal rocks video world

[4]Yogscast – Reply Girls ruining YouTube

[5]Change.org – Google & YouTube Give YouTube Users Tools to Combat Video Spam

[6]YouTube – MeganSpeaks

[7]User Scripts – YouTube Anti Reply Girls

[8]Reddit – Dear YouTube Reply Girls

[9]Google – reply girls

[10]Pastebin – YouTube Reply Girls

[11]YouTube – LauraTickled

[12]YouTube – Jessi Kandy

[13]YouTube – Jessica Review

[14]Blogspot – MeganLeeHeart threatens to have someone killed

[15]Encyclopedia Dramatica – LifeInATent

[16]Blogspot – Scary leaked Skype conversation from LifeInATent, MeganLeeHeart’s boyfriend

[17]Daily Dot – Why MeganLeeHeart and LifeInATent are illegally botting as YouTube’s Bonnie and Clyde in crime

[18]Blogspot – Why did Machinima defend MeganLeeHeart till the bitter end?

[19]YouTube – MeganSpeaksMore

[20]YouTube – TheReplyGirlForever

[21]YouTube – NellyRocks

[22]YouTube – HeyLovellie

[23]Daily Dot – Confessions of a reply girl

[24]Daily Dot – Why YouTube’s reply girls are here to stay

[25]Daily Dot – YouTube’s attempts to stop suggestive spam have failed, caused the reply girls to return

[26]Vidstatsx – MeganSpeaks’ Video Status History

[27]Social Blade – MeganSpeaks’ Video Status History

[28]YouTube – HappyCabbie’s Documentary Video on Reply Girls

[29]YouTube – TimeWithMegan

[30]The Daily Dot – YouTubes Most Hated

[31]The Daily Dot – Confessions of a reply girl

[32]Know Your Meme – LifeInATent / LIAT

[33]Google Product Forums – Megan’s forum comments 1

[34]Google Product Forums – Megan’s forum comments 2

[35]Google Product Forums – Megan’s forum comments 3

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