Bees and Flowers and Reader--Oh My!

A few days ago I linked to Marco Arment’s response to MG Siegler’s post What If The Google Reader Readers Just Don’t Come Back? without actually reading MG’s article. I got around to reading it this morning though, and he made a few interesting — albeit tired — points that merit some discussion.

First, MG very eloquently compared Google Reader and its users to a flower and honey bees, conjecturing as to the importance of the relatively small user base Reader laid claim to prior to the announcement of its impending demise:

“The first is that Reader’s users, while again, relatively small in number, are hugely influential in the spread of news around the web. In a sense, Reader is the flower that allows the news bees to pollinate the social web. You know all those links you click on and re-share on Twitter and Facebook? They have to first be found somewhere, by someone. And I’d guess a lot of that discovery happens by news junkies using Reader.”

I took issue with this statement on two levels: first in MG’s assumption that a great portion of Reader’s users are “hugely influential”, a statement I found curious in the face of all the articles talking about how so-and-so’s less-technically-inclined family member bemoaned the service’s passing despite Reader’s portrayal as a niche market player, and second when he suggested that we have some semblance of influence: as much as we like to think we have some power over these companies, we don’t. If that hint was too subtle, go read Marco’s article Your Favorite Thursday Sandwich for a bit of perspective on the issue. The final point I want to make before moving on is that Reader is not the only service of its kind out there: Feedly and Newsblur, positioned as Reader replacements gained a combined total of more than half a million users in just a few days. There is no shortage of flowers, to adopt MG’s metaphor, and Readers users — bees, in MG’s parlance — quickly moved; the question, though, is how many will be lost in the transition?

“But the second reason worries me even more because it’s more quantifiable. By killing Reader, Google is likely to harm a lot of publishers, large and small, by eliminating a larger source of traffic.”

I will proceed as if everyone else on the internet has not already made this argument multiple times over. It is a valid fear, after all, losing one of the largest sources of traffic. Therein lies the real problem we will face in the coming months leading up to July first as more people move to other, comparable services, and following July first when those who remain must either vanish altogether or finally make the switch.