The demise of Google Reader's share features is affecting everyone from RSS-junkies to Iranian freedom fighters, and many of them are very displeased. Google Reader itself is very much alive and well, and in fact, the RSS reader will soon sport a slick-looking redesign. However, at some point this week, the ability to follow, friend and share links within Reader will cease to exist, as Google pushes people to use Google+ for those kinds of things. Along with it, the myriad communities that depended on Reader for years for everything from meeting new people to organizing protests will just have to figure something else out. It turns out Google wasn't so bad at social networks, after all.
Displeased is actually not a strong enough word to describe these sentiment. These people are pissed, and they're fighting back. (There are already protests planned outside of Google offices and a petition--using Google Docs, of course--to save Reader's social features.) The dissenters divide into two camps: Iranians and the Sharebros.
You've undoubtedly heard a lot about how the Iranian protests of 2009 were driven by Twitter. They were, and the government responded immediately, imposing firewalls and other censorship measures in an effort to quash the uprising. Ultimately, pretty much every single social network was banned in Iran over the past couple of years, leaving Iranians without a free speech forum--except Google Reader. As an Iranian blogger who goes by Amir explains, "Google Reader is not in a separated domain (like any other Google product) and thanks to https protocol, it is hard to filter by government." Amir and other Iranians are worried that Google+, which lives in a subdomain that could be more easily blocked, will suffer the same fate as the other social networks:
Popularity map for Google Reader shows that Google Reader is the 1st popular website in Iran, despite the fact that many users which are using VPN or proxies and are not counted! Then it makes sense why Google Reader matters for Iranian and why integrating it with Google+ will makes it like any already available and banned website like facebook!
Alan Green, the Google programmer saddled with breaking the bad news on the company's official blog, has received nearly 500 comments on his Google+ post announcing the changes, many of them from angry Iranians who believe their freedom of speech is in jeopardy. He hasn't responded to a single one.
Sharebros identify themselves simply as "person(s) whom one is following and followed by on Google Reader (as formally recognized by a Google Reader founder)," but their devotion to Reader is uncanny. Like more well known online communities like Reddit or 4chan, they've developed their own glossary of hashtags and lexicon of pictograms. ( -_- denotes "dissatisfaction or defeat.") The community doesn't just exist online, either. They have #sharebro parties, and many of them say they've met some of their closest friends via Google Reader. At least one Sharebro met his wife.
We talked to a number of Sharebros about the changes, and their arguments against axing the social features were about half as compelling as their stories about how Google Reader changed their lives. Richard Berger told The Atlantic Wire about how he ditched email and now primarily communicates with his mother via Google Reader. "Reader is the best way to share and discover content on the internet, period," says Richard.
Another, Stu Watson formed a band, No Sky God, with his friend James who he met through Google Reader. They just put out a 12" record featuring Nat Baldwin, the bassist from Dirty Projectors. "James and I would likely have never met without Reader," Stu wrote in an email, "but more importantly the social aspects of Reader allowed us to get to know each other in a more intimate and ultimately meaningful way than if we had, say, just been Facebook friends or something." Stu tells us that people in the Sharebro sphere are already working on coding their own Reader replacement--they don't want to use Google+.
The most compelling Sharebro story comes from Ramey Moore. In a Reader forum post, Ramey tells the story about how he and his wife, who's expecting a child soon, "first met at a #sharebro event, scheduled and organized solely through Reader." The (long) post concludes:
I am 100% certain that even if someone at Google cares or commiserates with me that nothing will change. … Basically, this is a panegyric. An elegy. A final funeral oration. A fuck you to those who want to kill something that works and try to build a Frankenstein's Monster that will probably choke to death on its own blood. Reader works as is, this move is just a sad attempt to jump-start an already failed Buzz 2.0.
That's it, I'm done. If anyone cares I'm going to be trying to imagine how to delete G+.
At least one protest organized by Sharebros is scheduled to gather tomorrow at Google's DC headquarters. Meanwhile, the petition to save Reader's social features has gathered thousands of signatures. And despite all the backlash from their most devoted users, the Google Reader teams has yet to respond. We reached out for a response and haven't heard back.