The End of GoogleReader: A Sign of Blogging’s Decline and Lessons for Lawyers

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As you’ve probably heard, yesterday, Google announced that it’s retiring Google Reader, a free service for consolidating and reading RSS feeds on July 1, 2013.  Launched in 2005, Google Reader has a loyal following but with user rates declining, the Reader, along with many other products, will now fall victim to another round of spring cleaning.

So what can we learn from the demise of Google Reader? First, that blogging (at least conversational blogging rather than blogging for SEO) is on the decline (I know that my buddy Kevin O’Keefe will disagree – but hear me out.  GoogleReader grew out of Google’s launch of Blogger and provided a tool to make it easier for blogs to gain traffic.  Here, my experience is typical; as a long time blogger, I relied heavily on GoogleReader for new stories (particularly when I was pumping out ten to twelve posts a week during my three year stint at Legal Blogwatch.

Yet lately, I’ve noticed that many of the younger people who’ve passed through my office as interns or clerks over the past few years don’t use GoogleReader, relying instead on other services like email alerts or GoogleNews tools to track new events. But then again, many of the younger generation whom I’ve worked with don’t follow blogs much as all, save for the big kahunas like HuffPo or maybe (if they’re lawyers) Above the Law. Indeed, when I recently scolded newbies for not knowing how to blog or set up and track RSS feeds, I didn’t consider the possibility that as a blogger, I’d become passe and needed to be dragged into the 21st Century 3.0 rather than the other way around.

In lieu of creating content, these days I notice many lawyers just setting up content curation hubs  like these which basically recirculate content produced by others. To me, content curation platforms are a worse SEO/marketing cheat than blog scrapers which most readers realize simply pilfers content (plus bloggers could protect full scale scraping by asserting copyright and limiting copy available via RSS).   By contrast, content curation sites string together a bunch of links and a few lines of copy (fair use) and make it look pretty; while the curator draws traffic off others’ efforts.  Of course, no one is thinking to ask what happens when abundant, free content dries up or moves behind a paywall, which is now a growing trend by many news services.  Google Reader’s demise is harbinger of the move away from free content.

GoogleReader teaches a second lesson for lawyers working in a dynamic industry: don’t get too attached because many of today’s products are still in their nascency and may look different tomorrow as they develop and as the industry around them changes. Though service terminations and changes are more likely when a product is free, they’re common with many products. For example, since 2010, I used the fee-based version of a cloud platform, to share files with clients. At the time, Box’s service was still clunky and too troublesome for my clients, so I discontinued it. After hearing rave reviews about the service, I revisited it, only to learn that the cost has increased considerably (from $45/month for unlimited external share to $15/month per user – (either internal or external) or moving to enterprise version which starts at $90/month at least according to the salesperson I spoke with). Unlike gas or electric service, cloud-based services aren’t regulated (nor am I suggesting that they should be) which means that users are at the whim of markets. In a disruptive time of multiple entrants, markets favor users and we can have our pick of services at any price. But at some point, the market will settle on a couple of models that may not have our preferred set of features or price point.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting in any way that lawyers wait to deploy technology. Rather, the message is, don’t get too attached. Even as providers are making it easier to store and create documents in the cloud (and claim that they’ll facilitate transfer), you should be keeping a mirror of your files on a local machine or server in case you have to move suddenly.  Continue experimenting with a variety of platforms so that you don’t lose those poly platformy skills.

Back in 2010, when I co-wrote Social Media for Lawyers with Nicole Black, she sang the praises of Feedly to track news and blog feeds and share interesting tidbits on Twitter.  I set up an account but didn’t take the time to really get comfortable with it since I was already wedded to GoogleReader. Now, I wish that I’d listened.  Seems that living in a beta world always requires a Plan B.