Skip to main content

Google Reader should go into the public domain

Yesterday, I wrote about Google's reckless shutdown of Google Reader. In hindsight, my analysis was too kind to Google. I looked at it as a simple business decision motivated by bottom line profits and, golly, a company needs to make money, right?

Let's revisit the situation, starting with the premise that Google makes plenty of money – or indeed, the premise that Google makes an ungodly amount of money. Google may as well own a printing press, print money, and stuff it in its pockets before the ink is dry. Google provides free meals for everyone on its campus. Its founders have a private jet each, and the company owns two 767 jets.

So why is Larry Page acting as if everything is a life and death situation? Why should the company kill a popular product that many rely on to get information?

It is extremely irresponsible – some would even say evil – for a company to create a product as indispensable as Google Reader and then suddenly tell its thousands of users to go whistle because it's now dead. It creates distrust among users.

If Google wants to follow Yahoo's lead and pull this stunt, then fine. It'll end up in the same junk heap. But I was always under the assumption that Google was better than that.

Imagine that Google Reader was some little Silicon Valley startup. It takes off and becomes the number one product in its category. It makes no money but it has grabbed eyeballs, so every investor goes nuts and wants in on the action. Money will come later.

That's the Silicon Valley methodology. If a product is popular and people clamour for it, someone will figure out how to make money later. It's a formula that is little understood but works.

Google itself started this way. When it began as a company, pundits were scoffing at search engines. Sure, they were great, but they didn't make any money. Well, the joke is on those guys. Google is now hugely successful, so if any company could appreciate this model of success, you'd think it would be Google. Hey boys, look at all those jets you have.

Google Reader could have easily been monetised by any number of mechanisms, including a user fee. But did Google take any action? I sure can't think of one thing it tried. Instead, it looks like the company, in some brain-dead, cavalier fashion, decided to drop it. "Screw the users. Screw the implications. Screw what anyone thinks. We're Google and what we say goes."

Instead, the company should make Google Reader a public domain open source system. Give it away to any group that wants it – the Mozilla Foundation, for example.

I've said for years that if a product has a large user base and people have grown to depend on it, then the company, by law, should not be allowed to pull the plug on it without offering it into the public domain. Does Google have any other plans for the code? I don't think so.

Give it up Google. Other people can use Google Reader – and perhaps even make money.