Let the uproar continue. Last week Google announced that as part of its annual “Spring Cleaning” it would be shutting down Google Reader on July 1st. The official announcement cited a declining user base and Google’s desire to focus its resources on fewer products. But the internet is not taking this news lying down. First of all, everyone should follow this link to Change.org and sign the petition to change Google’s mind. As of this writing that petition has already garnered over 123,000 signatures. There are several other petitions that are growing quickly as well.
But is Google Reader really a ghost town? Is it something Google can shut down without angering a large portion of its user base? Apparently not. According to a set of stats were recently released by Buzzfeed, not only is Google Reader still being used every day by millions of news-hounds, it is also far more effective at driving traffic than Google+. This data is not entirely complete because Google began defaulting its users to SSL encryption sometime last year. But that only means that the actual traffic being driven by Google Reader is probably much greater than what is shown below, certainly not less.
If this were a dramatic moment in a movie, this is where those arguing for the salvation of Google Reader would drop their mic and walk away. Google+ is a great product that boasts a beautiful interface, simple and dependable privacy control, and lots of great ways to connect with people and brands. But the numbers speak for themselves. Google+ may have 100+ million active monthly users, but it has not yet proven itself as a dependable source of traffic. Even for many Android websites and blogs Facebook continues to refer readers at a greater rate and at a higher percentage than Google+. Google can’t convince anyone that Google+ can replace Reader. And the numbers speak for themselves.
The above chart does need some qualification. The spike seen in February of 2013 is the result of a plethora of sites being added to Buzzfeed’s statistics. But this information still tells a very clear story. Not only is Google Reader driving vastly more traffic than Google+, but Google+ has essentially been flat-lining for the last year in terms of click-throughs.
But the question that continues to be shouted across the internet still demands an answer: why? Certainly it can’t be a financial decision. Google maintains many services that don’t turn a direct profit for Google that are far more expensive to maintain than Reader. One former Google manager speculated that Google simply wants to focus more on Google+ and less on products that aren’t a core part of Google’s long-term plans for the future. That may well be true, but it still doesn’t explain why Google would kill such a cheap product that drives so much traffic for so many sites around the web.
No doubt the speculation and rage will continue to spread over the next several weeks, and we should not give up hope that Google will listen to our pleas for the rescue of Google Reader. But the numbers don’t add up, Google is angering users, and the outcry is spreading and gaining momentum. Promoting Google+ is fine, but doing it at the expense of a product that so many of us use every single day is a travesty. Get it together, Google.