"See, you don't get to do that, to come into somebody's life, make them care and just check out."
-- Dale, "The Walking Dead"
That quote has been on my mind ever since March 13, when the official Google Blog announced via a post called "A second spring of cleaning" that it was shutting down Google Reader as of July 1.
For those unfamiliar, Reader is an aggregator of RSS feeds. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication," and by using a feed aggregator you can view every post made on a website without going to the actual website itself. In this way, users can follow the updates of hundreds of sites at once.
When Google launched Reader eight years ago, it instantly became the most vital part of my entire Internet experience.
RSS had existed before then, of course, but it took the muscle of Google not only to push the format into the mainstream, but also to create the best synching solution available -- no matter what device you used to read your feeds, once it had been read you never had to see it again.
New Reader clients popped up (in particular the brilliant NetNewsWire), then expanded onto mobile devices with iOS and Android apps. You could get the information you wanted, whenever and wherever. Opening a Web browser and typing "www.whatever.com," then having to sort through dozens of links (not to mention ads) seemed as archaic as turning on the TV and waiting for the evening news to start at 6:30 p.m.
But there always was trouble on the horizon. You got the sense that Google didn't care all that much about Reader because it almost never updated it or added new features.
Maybe someone finally figured out that those of us using Reader weren't being served up ads, which is where Google makes its money, or maybe they had just moved on to other things -- in particular Google Plus, which was clearly the way Google wanted you to share links moving forward.
And so it finally brought the hammer down a few weeks ago, killing off the most important product it makes in my daily routine with a one paragraph blurb (halfway down the post ... as if it wasn't all that important).
It stated: "We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader."
So that was that.
The tech press naturally erupted in howls of protest, a given because Reader was the best way to keep track of all the various sources it has to cover on a daily basis. Thankfully, several RSS aggregators had seen the writing on the wall as well and stepped up to try to fill the void immediately.
I've since migrated my feeds over to Feedly.com and am slowly trying to integrate this new way of doing things into my daily routine.
Nevertheless, it was a shock to the system and brings up a much larger point about Google -- and that is the simple fact that I don't trust it.
Was Google doing me a favor by creating and managing this thing that made my life much easier and without charging me a dime for it? Yes. Does that mean it gets to take it from me whenever it chooses, and I have to be happy about it? No.
Google Reader joins the very long list of useful Google services that it gave to the world only to then take away -- a list that includes Google Buzz, Google Gears, Google Desktop, Google Video (and, heck, I'll even include Google Wave), among others.
Let's not forget one key fact about Google: It makes money selling ads. If, at any point, it feels like its product isn't selling ads well enough, it'll take it away. Do you think it won't hesitate to kill Gmail if something better comes along and enough people moved from it? What about Android? Samsung just did a press event during which it unveiled the Galaxy S4 and never once mentioned the word, instead showing off all the software it has created that runs on top of Android, which speaks volumes.
Google could decide it doesn't need to bother anymore and shift its vast resources to Chrome OS and/or magical Google Glasses.
Google giveth; Google taketh away. That is its right, but I'm done with it. From now on, I won't be using any more of its services unless I have a ready-made replacement lined up -- and I certainly won't be giving it any money.
Morgan Bonner is pre-press manager and a systems administrator for the Packet and Gazette.