wasting bandwidth since 1999

Tag: reader

Buyer Beware

As I’ve mentioned in other rants, I speak to many groups on the topic of managing information while on the go and using multiple devices to do it. While each person needs to figure out the process that works best for them, almost everyone now depends on interconnected services and applications that can sync to some kind of storage in the now-legendary cloud.

It turns out those web-based services are not yet to the point of being completely dependable. Case in point, back in March Google pretty much lopped off one of the cornerstones of the information management process I use and advocate when they announced the shutting down of Reader, their service that is the "cloud" behind (above?) many, if not most, RSS aggregator applications. Which means that millions of us who depended on Reader (plus more than a few software publishers) are looking for alternatives before July 1.

Last week my process potentially took another hit when the developer of Instapaper, another application I depend on every day, posted that he was selling the popular read-later service. Considering how many small web/app companies have disappeared lately because their new owners wanted the people and technologies* but not the product, I had reason to be concerned.

However, there’s a big difference between this announcement and Google’s. Instapaper’s owner was very up front and transparent about the sale. Between posts to his blog and discussions on several podcasts, he made it clear that his first concern was for the users of the service. A core part of the deal was that the development of Instapaper continue.

It remains to be seen if everyone involved follows through on this plan, but this situation illustrates the big difference between Google and this individual developer (other than one is an 800 pound gorilla).

Google’s business is selling advertising and it’s users (and the data they generate) are the product being sold. The shutdown of Reader is one more sign that leaders of the company have decided anything not generating revenue must be changed or deleted.

Maybe not something to worry about but certainly something to consider before you begin to rely on a product, service, or app (from Google or any other company) that may disappear on short notice.


*One of the latest examples is Posterous, a simple blogging site that was bought by Twitter in 2012 and shut down a few days ago.

Why I Don’t Like Free

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all that different from most others when it comes to someone buying me lunch. And I’ve certainly collected my share of conference tchotchkes over the years.

But I’ve also been around long enough to have learned that free seldom comes without a price, especially in this digital life. That point was driven home this week when Google announced the death of Reader, their RSS aggregator and a service I have relied on every day for many years.

When it comes to free, whether it’s hardware, software, or services, there are basically three ways you wind up paying.

One is through advertising, which is what you get with “free” search, “free” social networking sites, apps, video, and more. The payment comes in the form of clutter, distraction, and that nagging suspicion that you’re being tracked (likely you are). Or they directly connect your content to the advertising. (Ask the users of Instagram how that feels.) The saying goes that if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, not the customer.

Another way free can cost you comes in the form of underpowered software and services. The description looks like what you need but you eventually discover that the no-cost version doesn’t do what you need it to do and to get the functionality you were promised, there’s either a paid version or the newly fashionable “in-app purchases” to bring it up to speed.

Finally, we have the cost that Google is now extracting from many of us: the product or service disappears. If the developer isn’t making money from either you or advertisers, they don’t have a lot of incentive to continue developing and improving their creation. Or continuing to make it available at all.

So now I will be paying for the years of free functionality provided by Google Reader in the form of spending my time looking for good alternatives. (So much for don’t be evil.)

And worrying about the possible fate of Delicious, another service with no apparent business plan that has also become a cornerstone of my information life. Maybe I’ll be proactive and take another look at Pinboard.

 

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