The UX flaw behind Google Reader’s Death

Wednesday 27th, March 2013 ,

In the rapidly developing digital marketing world, user experience is gradually growing in importance. However, businesses need to understand that for their digital marketing strategies to make the desired impact, user experience has to be flawless.

Last week I went to my friend Kevin’s place for a night of gaming. To my utter shock, I found him weeping like Natalie Portman in the movie “V for Vendetta” when her head was shaved off. The sight of a 6-foot tall, bearded, 24-year-old man crying was truly terrible. When asked what had upset him, he turned his computer’s LCD monitor towards me. There was a notification on Google’s blog that really got me depressed as well. It was an official announcement that Google Reader was to be killed effective July 1st 2013. It broke my heart.

One could argue that it was just another internet platform. But I don’t recall feeling this downcast even when Microsoft (for the sake of new outlook) trashed my first ever email account on Hotmail. Nor I was furious with Yahoo when they shut down the then cool messenger chat rooms. But I couldn’t imagine any blog reading experience without Google Reader. Ever since I began using it in 2008, I never felt the same amount of satisfaction with any other online or offline platforms. I can’t ever recall an instance when I was dissatisfied or not comfortable with the experience of this RSS reader even in hellish situations (or IE6 / IE7 browsers). It even provided me reading and subscription trends and suggested top feeds of the day.

On examining the decline in loyal users that Google was mentioning, I happened to delve into what caused my favorite reader’s downfall. It’s a well-known fact that normal internet users don’t use RSS Feeds. It’s used mostly by internet enthusiasts, bloggers, journalists and online marketers. Then I wondered what made me choose Google Reader. Five years back I fell in love with Techcrunch and I wanted to know all the updates at this blog. At those times social media was not that powerful and one had to subscribe to a website via email subscription, which was an annoying prospect.

Then I met RSS which helped me subscribe to all of my favorite websites. Since I had been used to it for a while I didn’t realize the number of steps that are involved in subscribing to a website via RSS. Google’s statement that “decline in loyalty customers” was the reason for shutting down Reader was certainly not because of the users. It was clearly about the lack of consumer appeal with RSS or flaw in methodology. Why is RSS known only to a limited number of internet users who are driven towards it? My uncle, who is a big foodie and loves to read food blogs, as well as my friend and fashion designer Riya, who follows multiple international fashion websites, aren’t aware of this tool called the RSS. They tend to go to their chosen websites every time by typing the URL in the address bar or through search engines.

The RSS icon is not an effective way of communication. The small orange icon with 3 curves is an attempt to signify feed from loudspeaker. However, it doesn’t capture the attention of users. Since there is no awareness about the icon it’s not prominent. Consider the steps involved in subscribing to a feed.

Step 1 : Search for the 30 x 30 orange box at the top or bottom of websites (or in some website it’s replaced by a subscribe button)

Step 2: Land on a subscription page where RSS is distracted by email subscription

Step 3: Ignoring email subscription you choose RSS.

Step 4: You are provided a selection of readers to choose from, which confuses you further.

Step 5: After you choose your reader, you are again at crossroads wherein if you have chosen Google you are asked whether you want the feed in homepage or a reader.

But the rise of social media has simplified these steps. For instance, the Facebook or Twitter integration on the same website which requires only 2 steps i.e. you have to just follow or like a page to get regular feeds. On flip side, you have chance of missing out on updates when you are offline. Even Google had placed Reader in the “more” tab on its home page, which does not immediately gain attention. In spite of all these hurdles, Google Reader has proved to be one of the major readers on internet, and its user experience as a tool is exceptional. The steps to use it and the method behind the tool is built has a problem . It’s clear that there is a decline in all RSS subscriptions and that steps should be taken to provide more consumer appeal if we want the age old tool to prevail.


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