Google buried the news in a "spring cleaning" post on its official blog last night, saying that "while the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined." The service is scheduled to shut down on July 1st.
You may have noticed I referred to Reader as a news reading ecosystem -- and that, to me, is what makes Reader such a unique and valuable service. In addition to providing an unmatched Web interface for managing and keeping up with your personal RSS subscriptions, Reader's API allows third-party developers to tap into that same data and make it available anywhere you go.
As a result, Google Reader is surrounded by a robust family of third-party apps, such as Android's Press and Reader HD, that let you access your subscriptions with outstanding UIs and robust functionality. These apps connect to Reader's network to sync your feeds and keep track of what you've read, making it easy to stay up-to-date with the news you need to follow as you move between your PC and mobile devices.
For many of us -- particularly people who need to continually keep up with a specific set of sources -- this ecosystem has become an important part of our daily work flow. And its demise will leave a hole that'll be difficult to fill.
Sure, there's a handful of possible replacement services, but let's be honest: Most of them are mediocre imitations with a fraction of Reader's functionality. Many of them have been struggling to stay online with the sudden wave of attention. And none of them can offer the ecosystem Reader provides; at best, you're limited to using the service's own second-rate mobile app if you want to read content on the go and keep your data synced across devices.
Some people pooh-pooh the need for a tool like Reader, claiming that social media and visual news apps like Flipboard are far more in style for 2013. That's fine; hey, to each his own. For me, though -- and judging by the Internet's loud outcry, plenty of other folks -- those services simply aren't the same thing.
Twitter is great for finding interesting content, but it's not an effective way to keep up with a specific group of sources that you need to read exhaustively. And visual news apps like Flipboard, while nice for casual perusing from a tablet on the couch, are a far cry from the efficient no-frills system a text-based service like Reader provides. We're really talking about apples and oranges.
So Google, I appeal to you: Reconsider. Don't kill Reader. It's a vital tool for a passionate and sizable community of loyal users. We don't need to be lavished with exciting new features and regular attention; just keep the service running and we'll be eternally grateful. Heck, I bet a lot of us would be happy to pay for ongoing access, if you were to ask.
At the very least, if you're dead-set on pulling the plug, give someone else a chance to buy Reader and take the reins. I suspect quite a few companies would jump at the chance.
Google needs to know that a lot of people share this sentiment. If you want to see Reader stick around, there are a few things you can do:
• Sign a petition. Dozens of them are popping up around the Web; the largest I've seen is this one at Change.org, which has 55,000 signatures and counting as of Thursday morning.
Will any of it make a difference? Maybe. Maybe not. But the public response to this decision is already strong, and if it continues to build, you never know what could happen.
It sure can't hurt to try.