500 Words: What Is Ours and What is Not

500 Words on Thursday  | Written by Lee Schneider

The end came quickly, after a long illness. The eulogies are already starting. Some of us are dressing in black. Perhaps you’ve heard. Google Reader is dead. Formal burial is scheduled for July 1.

Oh, you don’t care? Well, maybe I can help you here.

Google Reader was useful cloud app with, apparently, a dwindling user base. It allowed you to collect and read blog posts and articles from thousands of sources. Now, as Fast Company puts it, it’s see you later, aggregator.  If I were making a tribute film for Reader, the kind they play at the Academy Awards to honor the dead, one of the clips would show me in 2010, at the beginning of Red Cup Agency, when I was using Reader to gather articles by the boatload to post on Twitter for clients. Reader brought me the 140 characters I needed about babies, pregnancy, adventure, wine, and organic food. It was the little information engine that could. I depended on it.

Big mistake. When you depend on somebody else’s technology, you’re screwed when it goes away.

Reader’s demise got me thinking. I depend on a lot of cloud apps. I write first drafts in Teambox, where I do project management. We’re using Prezi to create the presentation for next week’s digital storytelling workshops. Clients use Asana. I use Evernote, share files with Dropbox, do our accounting in Xero and bill through Freshbooks. I own none of that technology.  Little of the data resides on my computer.  I’m depending on those providers to stay in business, not get acquired, and to protect my data.

When they fail, I have a blank screen. I scramble to find a pen and paper.

During the movement for Indian independence, Gandhi popularized the concept of Swadeshi — self sufficiency — which later influenced E.F. Schumacher when he was writing Small is Beautiful. (Hey sorry, kind of a hard left turn there for you readers; hang on to the strap located just above your head and we’ll make this blog work, okay?) 

For me, Google Reader’s demise is reminder that we must maintain our independence. When I drink Evernote’s marketing Kool Aid and actually begin thinking of that app as my ‘extra brain’ that’s when I’m in trouble. Even though apps can even out the rough spots, it’s still up to us to create and evolve. We can’t hand over data, hearts and minds to anyone, especially on a platform we don’t own. That’s why we developed Red Cup Office on an open source platform. That’s why I still write things down in notebooks.

This is yet another resounding argument for why start up culture is so important. If somebody else isn’t making what you want, you can raise the money on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo to make it yourself, or hire people to make it and market it for you. And yes, there will be replacements for Google’s departed Reader, some of them already deployed.

Gandhi image from Wikimedia.