Embrace, Extend, Extinguish, Google-style

Ed Bott nails what really happened with Google Reader:

The short life and sad death of Google Reader tells a familiar story of how Google swept in to a crowded field, killed off almost all credible competition with a free product, and then arbitrarily killed that product when it no longer had a use for it.

It’s not unlike the widely criticized model that Microsoft pursued in its pre-Millennium days as a monopolist: Embrace, extend, extinguish. Except in this example it doesn’t appear to be part of a grand plan to destroy an industry. Google was Godzilla, sweeping through the landscape and crushing anything in its path, because few startups can compete with a free product from Google[…]

Google Reader’s real competition back in its early days was not client software but services that aggregated RSS feeds and synchronized them across multiple devices.

Two reactions:

  1. The real loss is RSS synchronization. No question.
  2. Bott (like many Google critics) takes the usual tack of characterizing Google as an overgrown child that didn’t know any better. I’m not so sure.
  • RSS readers are in direct opposition to Google’s business model. Every post read in a reader is a post not read on a website, where you might see an ad or at least be tracked.
  • RSS aggregators like Newsgator or Bloglines effectively took RSS users off of the web completely, at least as far as Google is concerned. The way aggregators work is that they only visit a feed once, and then distribute that feed to all of their users who are subscribed. The net result is that Google had zero visibility into the reading habits of every NewsGator/Bloglines user (no different than the lack of visibility they have onto what happens on Facebook)
  • By offering an arguably superior product for free, Google both got visibility into Reader users’ interests and destroyed the business model of Newsgator/Bloglines. Now they’re gone, and, unsurprisingly, so is Reader.

So to summarize, RSS syndicators closed off a section of the web from Google. Now the entire industry is gone on Google’s account. Are we sure this was an accident?