A lot of friends of mine were avid Google Reader users. For some of them, it was their primary social media tool. They had built a strong community around it. Naturally, they were attached to its user interface, features, and workflows. It was home to them.
Google recently ‘redesigned’ Google Reader in a way that blatantly forced Reader users to adopt Google+ as their social media platform. A lot of Reader devotees are pissed about this. They want their old technology back.
My first response to this is: What did you expect? What made Reader so special? It was just the first of several experiments in social media that Google’s used to edge into the Facebook’s market. (Reader, Buzz, Wave, now Google+). Of course, the industry logic is that your community should be dumped onto the newer platform, so that Google can capture the network effects of your participation. Your community is what will make their new technology so valuable to them!
Still not happy?
The problem is that Google Reader was a corporately operated platform, not a community operated one. You may not have know that you had other options. There are a lot of social media communities that have a lot of self-control, Metafilter being a particularly great one. (incidentally, Ask Metafilter has a good guide to Reader alternatives) There is also a lot of energy going into open source social media tools.
The most prominent of these is Diaspora, which raised a ridiculous amount of funding on Kickstarter when the New York Times wrote about its being a project. I stopped following it after the first press buzz, but maybe it’s time to start paying attention to it again. Since its community has recently announced that it is not vaporware, I decided to go ahead and join the diasp.org pod.
To my surprise, it’s pretty great! Smooth, intuitive interface, fast enough, seems to have all the bells and whistles you’d want and not a lot of cruft–basically all the stuff I care about on Google+. I’ve got a public profile. Plus, it has great tools for data export in case I want to pick up and move to a different pod.
Looking into it, Diaspora does not yet work as an RSS reader, though there is an open issue for it. A bit of a missed opportunity, IMO. Some other people are build an open-source Reader clone in response, which could more directly solve the Reader problem. Whatever the current technical limitations, though, they can be surmounted by some creative piping between services.
The point that I hope stands is that there is a hidden cost to a community investing in a technical infrastructure when it is being maintained by those that do not value your community. People’s anger at the Reader redesign demonstrates the value of the open source alternatives.