Lesson from Google Reader: Don’t get attached to free products

As Google decided to say goodbye to Reader, a lot of my friends who are bloggers ended up being angry and sad. I am no exception, I am totally disappointed with Google for being so soulless but I think with time the anger will be gone.

There is already a mad scramble for finding Google Reader alternatives and we will surely find one or two companies come up with a worthy replacement over time.

But there is big lesson to be learnt from Google Reader’s impending demise. That lesson is do not fall in love with free products or services.

Free services are never truly ours!

Free apps dead
Image: Credit

I spent a lot of time on Google Reader. I created folders and shared bundles. This was time that I gave to Google Reader and it enriched my experience and possibly others too. All that is gone and its mainly because I do not own my data. I might be able to download it but I won’t be able to use it the same with with another service.

Lets take a look at all the free services we use. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, Google Search and so many more services. I love these services but with the end of Google Reader, I realise that all our data on these services is not really ours. We spend hours on Facebook and Twitter but really do we get out of it as much as we give it. We give our time, upload our photos, get social interactions.

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Yes, we can back-up our data from Facebook but can we take the social interaction to another service? No, we cannot. If I am unhappy with Facebook and move to Google+, I have to start from scratch. The same goes vice-versa.

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To be honest I am glad that Google Reader was built on RSS feeds. I could take my RSS feeds to another reader or app and continue without too many issues.

Sure I will miss Google Reader but I won’t exactly feel I have to start from scratch. Now what if Facebook closed down? I might be able to move my photos and download my updates. Even backup my contact lists but what about the countless social interactions which make our social networking experience truly rich.

Lesson for Bloggers!

This is a big lesson for bloggers. If you are using a free service like Blogger.com or WordPress.com you might want to rethink your strategy. These blogging platforms are free and host your content free. They are likely to remain free for a long time to come. But what if one of them closes down? What happens to your years of writing and building a community? Maybe if you blog very actively, it might be a good idea to buy yourself a domain and some hosting.

Atleast data from blog (including comments) can be migrated but I know many who create great content only for their social networking pages and profiles. That is a very risky thing to do and it is better to truly own your content.

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Let us be fair to Google

I started this post saying I was angry with Google but to be fair to them, I can see that Google Reader was a product that was not exactly going to grown. This is where smaller companies like Flipboard and Feedly might thrive as their core business will be dealing with managing feeds.

It is interesting to note that no other big web company like Facebook, Yahoo or Microsoft has a half decent competitor to Google Reader. Google has just gone back to its core competency, which is big data and the data from Google Reader I suspect was not large enough.