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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.

  • nikilblack

    Carolyn–there’s still hope for you! Feedly will aggregate your Google  Reader feeds and they now have plans for a seamless transition as Google Reader ends. Here’s a link to their post from the Feedly blog:

  • I run into the same thing with law students/young lawyers–they don’t read blogs. But those same people often can’t tell me what area of law they’re interested in. And if they can, they often can’t tell me what’s going on in the industry now. I bet they could if they were reading good blogs on it…

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  • Susan Cartier Liebel

    Carolyn,  I disagree on the demise of blogging.  What has taken the place of googlereader is Twitter, FB, LinkedIn where our ‘friends’ are telling us what we should be reading instead of us choosing to aggregate. We are relying on our friend’s and colleagues to be our curators.  But the need for the content remains or there is nothing for our colleagues and friends to curate for us! And, in turn, we have become OUR followers ‘googlereader’.  Just my immediate reaction to a demise being called long before its time.

  • RSS is so 2005. Twitter has subsumed a lot of the purpose of newsreaders. 

  • Whether we agree or disagree with Carolyn’s argument about blogging’s demise, her reminder about remaining flexible is always timely.  It doesn’t only apply to the tools we use, but also to the products and services we sell, and the client problems/challenges that determine what we should be selling.  Everything has a finite shelf life.  As my buddy in the used-car business always says, “Don’t get married to your inventory. Be ready to dump what used to sell in favor of what sells now.”

  • Have to agree with Nikki on feedly – it’s a nice alternative.

  • You’re wrong, Carolyn. Blogging isn’t dead, and reports to that effect are nothing more than the usual garbage hauled out whenever there’s a change to the ecosystem.The reality is that RSS never caught on with the real world; it’s not how actual, live, honest-to-goodness human beings find and read stuff online (notice how I did not say, “how people consume online content”). People either arrange for new articles to reach them by email as they are published or they visit the publication online.  Some use Twitter to get updates from sites they like.But the only ones who use RSS readers are those in the echo chamber of social media. Ask a client if they use an RSS reader and they’ll look at you cross-eyed.When I ask clients if they read blogs, they have no idea what I’m talking about. But if I ask them if they read a particular site that I know to be a blog, they claim that they do.Heck, even many other lawyers don’t know what the heck RSS or blogging is. We do because we’ve been doing it for longer than more grade-schoolers have been alive.The real world calls it,” writing,” or, “articles.” Those articles are posted on, “websites.”

    Some of that writing takes place on Tumblr (or, those crazy kids!), some on Facebook and some on Twitter.  Other people communicate with Instagram or Pinterest.

    Still, it’s a process of conveying information. Platforms evolve.

    Oh, and one more thing: Feedly is awesome, but it’s free. We’ll all use it to replace GReader, but don’t complain when they fiddle with it or discontinue the service. You get what you pay for, online as well as offline.

  • Carolyn Elefant

    I was suggesting that the genre of conversational, opinion-only or interactive blogging is dying down. Of course,  many retailers have blogs that consumers follow at sites like FB and as you noted, your clients come to your firm because of your blog. But those are informational blogs, not conversational or opinion blogs – and I doubt that the content from these blogs was ever consumed through RSS feed.
    Susan, you are right, social search and curation has definitely accounted for reduced use of Google Reader. But the kind of stuff that people tend to recirculate are the opinion/provocative news or blog posts – not the informational ones.

  • Carolyn Elefant

     It’s not just free services that can’t be relied on. As I pointed out in the post, in dynamic markets, even for-fee services are changing their pricing structures or being bought and sold. Whether something is fee or free, until the market shakes out, I think we’ll see lots of change – both in cost and features – in many of these cloud based services.

  • Twitter is an amusing toy, but worthless for closely following good content. LinkedIn is a walled garden filled with bad content. Facebook is a walled garden filled with personal content. RSS remains the only way to closely follow certain sources while also following a wide breadth of sources.

    Google’s killing Reader because they have a vision of the Internet 10 years from now in which you follow nothing closely and search for everything, and maybe they’re right for the masses, but there will always be a place for the simple newsreader that collects posts for quick review. Without it, serious writing on important subjects is simply impossible.

    Marco Arment is probably right; this is painful and annoying, but in the end, RSS readers will flourish.

  • Carolyn,
    all I can say is blogging isn’t dead. I use Google Reader as my information
    source, but I don’t subscribe to blogs but to content. I subscribe to Twitter
    hashtags’ feeds, Delicious tags, Google+ users and queries (there’s a Google
    Chrome plugin for that) and to Google Blog Search feeds. Twitter and Google+
    feeds allow me to take that conversational flow.

    Reader will die, but we have Feedly and many more…

  • Bruce Carton

    Very helpful, thank you Niki!

  • Chris Bradley

    Why hasn’t anyone pointed out the obvious? Carolyn knows blogging ain’t dead. She just knows how to write a kick-ass headline.

  • Gene

    I’ve tried setting up RSS feeds for favorite blogs (such as this one) but got tired of constantly having to sync everything or opening up a new window in google (because let’s face it – gmail is the only thing I use). I’ve come to love content aggregators to keep me on top of things (except for when they are really distracting) – like hacker news (Y Combinator) for all tech stuff. Quality of content typically goes up when everyone is open to contribution vs having one source do their own curating.

  • I suspect there will continue to be an interest for high quality content-focused blogs and readers will do what is necessary to find them.

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