Morgan Jones | The internet giveth, and it taketh away
Nuggets of Wisdom | Nuggets of Wisdom | The shutdown of Google Reader is a sobering reminder that the web isn’t ours
March 21, 2013, 1:06 am·
Nuggets of Wisdom
I imagine myself as the ruler of my own personal media. The god of my Facebook, Twitter and blog, that is.
Unfortunately, I’m not the god of the internet. And last Wednesday afternoon, every Google Reader user found out that they’re not either.
On July 1, 2013, Google will be discontinuing Google Reader, a RSS feed that displays all your news sources, blogs and sites of personal interest in one place. I do not have an opinion on whether or not this is a good decision — Google has done its research and despite the uproar, I doubt it will change its mind.
This instance does, however, point to one glaring fact that we internet users like to forget: everything we store on the internet is under the control of someone else, and we don’t have much of a say if that controller decides to take it all away.
Actually, we have no say at all.
Alex Kantrowitz of Forbes agrees, writing, “Google Reader was never anyone’s Reader but Google’s, and by virtue of ownership, Google was always free to do with it what it wanted … We are all participants in a user-driven Internet, but we are still just the users, nothing more.”
Many users also mourn the impending loss of Reader because they have crafted their feeds to reflect their interests to a tee. Reader has, like so many other web pages and apps we use, become personal. As John Paul Titlow of ReadWrite.com says, “Over time, the places we go on the Internet almost start to feel as much a part of our environment as our physical surroundings.” And, “[t]here’s something unnerving about a service you use every day disappearing, even if the decision has perfectly sound business rationale behind it.”
In some ways, it is a part of our physical surroundings. Just look around in class and see how many laptop screens have Facebook pulled up. And on Facebook, we are actually seeing into other people’s physical surroundings — shoutout to all the spring break tans and St. Fratty’s Day parties. The internet thus seems omnipresent because it is always at our fingertips. It’s also where we store photos, documents and correspondences.
But the problem is, we’ve become dependent upon something we have no protection from losing. We have no way to protect ourselves — or our photos and documents — if some corporation decides to pull the plug. Even if we manage to save what we have stored, we cannot keep the service provided.
Is the end of Google Reader the end of all RSS feeds? No. We live in a market economy, and already various apps are striving to replace Reader. One example is Feedly, an app that, according to its blog, also provides a quick way to “read and share the content of your favorite sites” and is even working to allow Reader users to seamlessly integrate their previous feeds onto this platform. “More than 500,000 Readers have joined the feedly community in the last 48 hours,” the blog posted last Friday.
Furthermore, the quality of feed-readers will increase in the wake of Google Reader’s death. Other apps have access to newer technology and want to meet all aspects of consumer demand. Feedly is finding a way to incorporate both Evernote and Pinterest features so that users can quickly organize and share their best finds. We just have to trust that Evernote, Pinterest and Feedly all stick around for … ever.
To those of us who didn’t use Google Reader, its disappearance may seem peripheral. But what happens if Google decides to discontinue Gmail tomorrow? What if it decides Google Calendar isn’t worth its time? Or, heaven forbid, Facebook or Twitter says it’s had enough? We would be screwed. I would sense an uprising on campus in the near future.
We all like to be in control of our own lives. And as much as the internet makes us feel like we’re in control, at the end of the day, we’re not.
Morgan Jones is a College junior from Colorado Springs, Co. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or send her a tweet @morganjo_. “Nuggets of Wisdom” appears every Thursday.