I've been giving a lot of thought to the idea of loyalty online since I learned that Google Reader is going away. The truth is that I felt abandoned by Google; they made a great product, asked me to use it, I fell in love with it, and then they snatched it away. I jumped ship immediately, finding myself a new blog reader and settling in long before Google's summer deadline. My feelings were hurt. All I had been was loyal, and where had that gotten me?
Image: Profernity via Flickr
And then I thought about all the times I "Google Readered" someone else's site. You know, that blog that I read daily at first and commented on religiously. I gave that writer every indication that I'd be around. And then they changed slightly or I changed slightly, and suddenly it wasn't a good reading fit. While I rarely give up reading a blog entirely, there are certainly blogs that I used to read actively that have become blogs that I skim without commenting. I "Google Readered" them: I connected and then withdrew that connection. And maybe there was a perfectly good reason in my mind for doing so, but still, I can't imagine they didn't feel something akin to what I'm feeling from Google Reader right now.
And to that end, there are plenty of people who have "Google Readered" my blog.
It is much harder to be a fickle patron or a fickle community member in the face-to-face world. We need to look someone in the eye when we bump into them in town. We need to explain why we're not seeing them anymore. If I stop patronizing a store and it goes away, I can't ignore the fact that I contributed to the end of that person's livelihood. Okay, fine, the blame doesn't rest squarely on my shoulders, but by patronizing that store or restaurant regularly and then pulling away my business, I've affected their world just as much as Google Reader has affected mine. Those brick-and-mortar stores logically know that I may not always be around, especially if they're not doing anything to keep me around, but still, it has to hurt when people who once showed up stop showing up.
This whole situation has made me ask what sites owe us? And what we owe sites?
Does Twitter owe us to keep Twitter going indefinitely once they hooked us on 140-character updates? Or can Twitter go away tomorrow without feeling any guilt for pulling the plug? What about Facebook? Or Pinterest? What about your own blog? Do you owe it to readers to keep writing, and if you don't, then does Google Reader really owe it to users to keep it going?
Obviously we don't have the bandwidth to keep up with every blog we start reading; we sometimes need to drop one to add one that is more relevant. Sometimes we sign up for a site and like it for a bit, but then decide that it's not a great use of our time. But what if we were expected to keep reading a site indefinitely once we started reading them?
I'm not sure quantity of users is a useful barometer; there are sites that have few users that are very emotionally invested in that site, and sites that have huge amounts of users that would care for exactly 5 minutes if the site disappeared.
Thinking about it this way, I've stopped feeling hurt about Google Reader. No hard feelings, Google.