We all love Google and for the most part they’re a great company with our best interests at heart. I mean, with an unofficial slogan of “don’t be evil”, they outta be nice. Right? But with their sudden and surprising decision to axe Google Reader, throwing RSS fans across the globe into chaos, it makes you wonder if we’re starting to rely on their services just a little too much for our own good. After all, the power they now wield is pretty incredible.
Sure, I’ve got a bone to pick, I admit it. I’m one of those people who’s use of Google Reader borders on the obsessive compulsive, routinely checking and reading my hundreds of feeds several times a day. It’s the best way for me keep track of all of the blogs and sites I enjoy and, just like thousands of other people, I will firmly contest that RSS as a mechanic is alive and kicking, despite whatever Google say.
Of course, I can live with Reader being closed down. I’ll move on and find something else; it’s only a web service after all. Still, Google deciding that RSS is dead has some pretty large consequences to a whole microcosm of businesses and paid apps that utilise Reader as their core infrastructure. Press, Reeder, Feeddler and Feedly, for instance, have all been sent scrambling trying to migrate to a new platform before the sunset period of Reader ends on 1st July (and woe to anyone who forked out cash for one of the apps if they don’t make it in time). It’s not all glum news though as Feedly has picked up over 500,000 news users since the announcement of Google Reader’s demise. Every cloud and all that.
Without getting all melodramatic, the decision to close down Reader and the knock-on impact it’s having on users and other businesses alike does demonstrate the sheer power and influence Google has. How many of us would be affected if GMail suddenly stopped? How many businesses rely on it to operate? What if Google closed down Drive and all of the masses of document it contains? Or if they started using our Google+ photos in advertising campaigns? Or, worse, sell off our personal details and browsing habits to the highest bidder? Tin foil hat time, probably, but not completely unrealistic given how Facebook has started treated our personal data.
“If it isn’t on Google, it doesn’t exist.”
I suppose we just need to chalk it up to the changing nature of software. As we move away from traditional desktop applications that we could run to our heart’s content, regardless of what the development decided later on, we’re now heavily tied into online services and subject to their creator’s whims and decisions. As harmless as this may seem, when we come to rely on these as huge parts of our personal and business lives, the risks associated with using them grows dramatically. Aside from willingly uploading gigabytes of personal information in social networks that are, really, very loosely regulated, we’re starting to build entire companies on the back of other people’s services. Google, in particular, now seeps into so many businesses, influencing everything from communication to file storage to advertising and marketing that it’s actually kinda scary.
So at what point does a company like Google stop being a for-profit corporation and start being a social service with a moral – and legal – obligation to its gigantic user base? When does a single business that is so large, powerful and ubiquitous as Google become so integral to our virtual lives that the risk vs reward factor becomes too unbalanced? With a 67% search engine market share, they almost have a potential monopoly on Internet searches and, given their preference for filtering down our actual results, they’re already exercising a lot of power and decision in what should arise in our own little personal search engine bubbles.
Maybe all of this smacks of a left-wing rant though and really the answer is to make a personal choice to diversify one’s product selection. Basically, you just switch from GMail to Hotmail, from Drive to Dropbox and from Google search to Duck Duck Go. Yeah… my thoughts exactly. Still, if you’re not yet ready to break away from mother Google, then I’ll leave you with this one lingering phrase. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen?
Tin foil hats at the ready.