Google Reader Died Because No One Would Run It

No one took ownership of Google Reader internally because it wasn’t a top priority for Larry Page and his inner circle of lieutenants. And if you aren’t working on something that the boss cares about, then what’s the point?

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There’s a very simple corporate reason for why Google Reader was shut down earlier this month: No one internally deemed it important enough to even work on, much less save.

The decision had little to do with consumers — the RSS reader was very popular with a core set of power users — and much more to do with corporate politics. At Google, Chief Executive Larry Page and his inner circle of lieutenants, known as the “L Team,” simply did not view Google Reader as an important strategic priority. Internally, it became obvious that despite Google Reader’s loyal fan base, working on the project was not going to get the attention of Page, several sources close to the company told BuzzFeed.

While the company said Google Reader was shut down because of a decline in usage, a major reason for that was owed to the fact that the project lacked an engineering lead, in part because no one stepped up to the task and because Google leadership wasn’t actively looking for one. Even when Google Reader was still public, without a leader it was functionally no longer a live project at Google, with engineers focusing more on Page’s larger projects like Android, Chrome, Google Plus, and Search.

“We know Reader has a devoted following who will be very sad to see it go. We’re sad too,” Google software engineer Alan Green wrote in the farewell post for Google Reader. “There are two simple reasons for this: usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.”

Google Reader began as an experiment under Google’s “20% time” policy — which allows Google employees to devote 20% of their time to personal projects. It very quickly became extremely popular among a small subset of power users, but never reached the critical mass of Gmail or Android, for instance.

Google teams, like those at other tech companies, have product managers, but much of the company’s leadership comes from its engineers. As a result, many product decisions come from and are executed by engineers, as was the case with Google Reader. Eventually, as Google Reader’s importance declined internally, the engineering leads — the de facto leaders of the project — were moved onto more high-priority projects. (By the time Reader was shut down, the team didn’t even have a product manager or full-time engineer, according to AllThingsD.)

There’s been plenty of reading into whether the decision to shut down Google Reader means Google is trying to take over user data. There were also reports that privacy and compliance played into the decision as well. All of these probably played a part.

But the major factor is a bit simpler: No one wanted to devote the time and energy necessary to keep the project alive because it wasn’t going to get them anywhere with Page.

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