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."

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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.

Editor's Choice
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Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek