Former product manager reveals how Google+ killed Google Reader

A former Google product manager has posted a number of reasons why the smartphone and search giant would be closing its popular RSS newsreader service Google Reader.

Yesterday, Google announced the service will be switched off on July 1.

Former Google Reader product manager Brian Shih, who oversaw the service before leaving Google in 2011, has taken to Quora to explain some of the reasons why the company would be closing the service.

“Let’s be clear that this has nothing to do with revenue vs operating costs. Reader never made money directly (though you could maybe attribute some of Feedburner and AdSense for Feeds usage to it), and it wasn’t the goal of the product,” Shah says.

“Reader has been fighting for approval/survival at Google since long before I was a PM for the product. I’m pretty sure Reader was threatened with de-staffing at least three times before it actually happened.”

Shih cites three previous occasions where he believes Google Reader staff were moved onto other social media products at the company, including OpenSocial in 2008, Google Buzz in 2009 and Google+ in 2010.

“Ironically, I think the reason Google always wanted to pull the Reader team off to build these other social products was that the Reader team actually understood social,” he says.

Shih believes that redesigns of the Google Reader website, connected to Google+, led to a significant decline in the number of users sharing content through the service, which in turn declined its usefulness alongside Google+.

“With dwindling usefulness to [Google+], (likely) dwindling or flattening usage due to being in maintenance, and Google’s big drive to focus in the last couple of years, what choice was there but to kill the product?”

However, Shih believes there is a clear market for a Google Reader-style product in the future.

“Personally, I think that there is still a lot of value a service like Reader could provide – particularly in a world with increasing information overload coming us from many different sources. But Reader at Google was pigeonholed as an RSS-reader explicitly, and didn’t have a chance to grow beyond that to explore that space.”


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