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Demise of Google Reader Reveals Trust Gap With Its Users

In the aftermath of Google’s decision to shut down its popular service Google Reader, and its subsequent announcement of a new product called Keep, prominent observers of the company (for example, James Fallows, Om Malik, and Ezra Klein) have raised concerns that consumers of Google’s “free” products cannot trust the company to keep investing in them.

Fallows wrote about “A Problem Google Has Created For Itself” in The Atlantic, explaining that “Google now has a clear enough track record of trying out, and then canceling, ‘interesting’ new software that I have no idea how long Keep will be around.”

Chris Gayomali wrote of Reader’s demise in The Week in a story entitled, “The problem with Google’s product-killing spree, It’s becoming an issue of trust.” He reasoned, “the lesson we’re starting to learn is that suddenly losing access to Google services is the trade-off we make for getting to use a company’s free tools. It’s not our stuff; it’s theirs.”

Klein offered a similar thought in The Washington Post online: “The problem, I’m beginning to think, is simply mismatch. The core services of Google’s business are often not the Google services I rely on most. And even when their core products and my needs do meet, the business connection is indirect.”

To see other abandoned Google projects, visit Slate’s Google Graveyard.

The widespread negative reaction to Reader’s demise casts doubt about Google’s stock non-answer to questions about its business, “We built Google for consumers” as the company says on its site about competition and antitrust issues. Google says its “don’t’ be evil” motto means the company is guided by what is best for users and “focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can.”

It doesn’t take Google Translate to know what that really means. As Klein summed up aptly, “Google just needs me logged into their system so they can amass data on my browsing habits. That’s the business.”

Om Malik offered the following take-away on GigaOm:

“It is hard to trust Google anymore to make rational and consumer centric decisions. I said — nuanced as it might be — that I don’t trust Google to introduce new apps and keep them around, because despite what the company says, these apps are not their main business. Their main business is advertising and search — regardless of whatever nonsense you might read. They will sacrifice anything and everything to keep those businesses intact. Sure, they embraced mobile advertising and mobile search, but that’s just the same business on a different device.”

It’s time to start reconciling Google’s reputation as a tech innovator with the reality that maintaining its dominance over search advertising, which delivered 95% of Google’s revenue in 2012, guides the company’s decision-making.