It doesn’t feel like it’s been 5 years since my last post about Reader, but I guess the past few years have suffered from time compression. For this anniversary I don’t have any cool projects to unveil, but that’s OK, because David Pierce wrote a great article – Who killed Google Reader? – that serves as a nice encapsulation of the entire saga.
Other Reader team members and I had a chance to talk to David, and the article captures all of the major moments. Some things ended up being dropped though; there’s enough twists and turns (in the social strategy alone) that a a whole book could be written. Here’s some more “fun” tidbits from Reader’s history:
The article talks about “Fusion” being Reader’s original/internal name (and how the “Reader” changed how it was perceived and limited its scope). The reason why “Fusion” was not used was because Google “wanted the name [Fusion] for another product and demanded the team pick another one. That product never launched, and nobody I spoke to could even remember what it was.”. Fusion was the initial name that iGoogle launched under, as can be seen in this article from mid-2005 (iGoogle itself was went through some naming changes, changing from Fusion to Google Personalized Homepage before ending up as iGoogle (its codename) in 2007). Finding the breadcrumbs of this story was somewhat difficult because Google later launched a product called Google Fusion Tables (not surprisingly, it was also shut down).
In terms of naming, these were other names that were considered, so “Reader” was as worst-except-for-all-the-rest sort of thing:
- Google Scoop (which team took to referring to as “Scooper”, as in pooper scooper)
- Google Viewer
- Google Finder
- Google Post
At one point during the (re-)naming saga Chris put in “Transmogrifier” as a placeholder name, with the logo being one of Calvin’s cardboard boxes. During the next UI review Marissa Mayer was not amused (or perhaps it was hard to tell what the logo was in those pre-retina days), and the feedback that we got was “logo: no trash”.
A low point in the interal dynamics was hit in 2011. I had made some small tweaks (in my 20% time) to fix an annoying usability regression where links were black (and thus not obviously clickable). Since we were getting a lot of flack for it on Twitter, I tweeted from the Reader account saying that it was fixed. A few hours later, I got a friendly-but-not-really ping from a marketing person saying that I need to run all future tweets by them, since there was an express request from Vic Gundotra to limit all communication about Reader, lest users think that it’s still being actively worked on. That was the second-to-last tweet from the official account, the next one was the shutdown announcement.
After Twitter blew up at SXSW 2007 there was a start of a “I don’t need Reader/RSS, Twitter does it for me” vibe amongst some of the “influencers” of the time. I posted a somewhat oblique tweet comparing the Google Trends rankings of “google reader” and “twitter” (with “toenails” being a neutral term to set a baseline), showing that Reader dwarfed them all (the graph looks very different nowadays). I couldn’t understand why someone would want to replace Reader with a product that had no read state, limited posts to 140 characters, and didn’t even linkify URLs, let alone unfurl them. In retrospect this was a case of low-end disruption.