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3/22/2013
06:26 PM
Thomas Claburn
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Google Backlash: For Real This Time?

Unhappiness about Google Reader's impending closure and mistrust about Google's commitment to new products won't last.

Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
Google Chromebook Pixel: Visual Tour
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With the launch of Google Keep, the search giant's cloud note-taking service, following the company's announcement that Google Reader will be discontinued, there once again has been talk of a Google backlash.

That's bound to happen when you eliminate an application used by millions of people. Reader had fans, many of them with considerable online influence.

The sense of betrayal among Reader users has been obvious: As Om Malik put it, "I spent about seven years of my online life on that service. I sent feedback, used it to annotate information and they killed it like a butcher slaughters a chicken."

Internet users, there is no Santa Claus. There's no benevolent Google looking down from the cloud, bestowing bandwidth and service to its followers. Online services cost money to operate and those using Reader weren't paying to keep the service running.

Malik laments that "it is hard to trust Google to keep an app alive."

[ Shopping for a smartwatch? Google has one planned. Read Google Eyes Android Smartwatch. ]

Trusting any business to operate a service at no charge is trust misplaced. It's as naive as believing that Google's "don't be evil" motto determines Google's actions.

That's not to accuse Malik of naivete. Clearly he understands the deal, noting that he's glad to pay Evernote to store his data. Frankly, we all should be supporting the online services we use by paying for them. Free services are pernicious. Although they clearly have a place, they're so abundant at the moment that the market for online services and content is distorted. And Google deserves much of the blame because it supports unprofitable services with search ad revenue, deterring potential competitors in the process. How many Google Reader competitors were never built because there was no clear way to be compensated for the effort?

Of course it's not that simple. Free services also can be pro-competitive. Free browsers and free online services helped break Microsoft.

Trust might be earned and it might be paid for. But whatever trust Google earned in its youth, it has squandered in its adolescence. Back in 2005, a year after Google went public, New York Times writer Gary Rivlin suggested that Silicon Valley was growing wary of the company everyone had supported because it dethroned Microsoft. In the article, Slide founder and entrepreneur Max Levchin is quoted as saying that although Google "still has a long wick of good will to burn off," he's "surprised at how fast the company's reputation is changing."

Almost eight years later, Google's wick of good will is short enough to require a magnifying glass. The company's unreleased computerized eyewear, Project Glass, already has been banned in a Seattle, Wash., eatery and has prompted a nascent opposition movement in the U.K.

Whether there's anything to this beyond publicity seeking isn't clear. There have been plenty of anti-Google campaigns sponsored by Microsoft and other competitors that haven't achieved their goals -- the antitrust case came to naught. But it's an ominous sign.

Google might bounce back, like it has from so many other rough spots: the recent removal of AdBlock Plus from Google Play; Google's 2012 privacy policy change and Google+ search integration; the Google+ real names controversy; the privacy problems related to Buzz, Street View and Latitude; and the company's 2010 withdrawal from China and its humbled crawl back.

Chances are it will because there's no alternative to Google that doesn't have comparable failings. The only white knight left standing, Mozilla, depends on Google ad revenue and dares only nibble at the hand that feeds it.

Google, Apple, Microsoft. Choose your poison.

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Mike_Acker
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Mike_Acker,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/6/2013 | 11:27:03 AM
re: Google Backlash: For Real This Time?
anybody should be able to figure this out: if you play with clouds you may get rained out.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/23/2013 | 2:21:39 AM
re: Google Backlash: For Real This Time?
I wonder if Google would go for the idea of possibly selling off the services that they're planning on closing. Perhaps there's someone out there who would be able to take the code for something like Reader and find a way to make it turn a profit so that all of the supporting infrastructure can be taken care of, etc.

I recall the outcry when Zynga was cancelling some of the games that it had out there that were seeing less than stellar usage. By letting users of these services know about the decision and give them the option to purchase the service and operate it as a business, perhaps Google, Zynga and the others out there could extend a little good will to the users.

From a business perspective, at least Google would be able to make some profit by closing these services and the services themselves could live on under the watch of the community or another organization. However, eventually, all services will end... just a matter of time.

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 10:34:33 PM
re: Google Backlash: For Real This Time?
"Whatever trust Google earned it in its youth it has squandered in its adolescence." Well said. To really win widespread adoption of its offerings outside of search, Google needs to learn that not everyone wishes to be the guinea pig in its next science project. Google wants to innovate and experiment with new services but users don't wish to be experimented upon. We want to buy into the services that reflect the core business with which Google's decided to stick. With each killed service, I'm less certain what that is. Charlie Babcock, InformationWeek senior writer
Andrew Binstock
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Andrew Binstock,
User Rank: Author
3/27/2013 | 4:26:25 AM
re: Google Backlash: For Real This Time?
I think the crucial factor w.r.t. Evernote is that note-taking is all they do. They're not going to cancel the service the way Google has with various projects. So, it's more than the entrenched user base that Google has to overcome, it's the perception that note-taking is not a core business--and hence vulnerable.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
3/26/2013 | 1:04:24 PM
re: Google Backlash: For Real This Time?
Some Evernote users simply don't want to put all their eggs in Google's basket. That is a factor Google must fight.

Laurianne McLaughlin
InformationWeek
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
3/26/2013 | 1:01:03 PM
re: Google Backlash: For Real This Time?
Relying on a free service is a risk, but is it riskier with Google than it is with a startup? I don't think so, and I doubt people will make this risk factor a big part of the use- don't use decision for new services. Keep's bigger challenge is just combatting the inertia a strong service like Evernote has with its users.
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