James Fallows doesn't trust Google not to kill each new product it spawns

"I have already downloaded the Android version of Google's new app for collecting notes, photos, and info, called Google Keep," writes James Fallows in the Atlantic. "This early version has nothing like Evernote's power or polish, but you can see where Google is headed. Here's the problem: Google now has a clear enough track record of trying out, and then canceling, 'interesting' new software that I have no idea how long Keep will be around."


  1. Well, Google has a choice about which products to focus on, since they have more money than god and lots of successful products. If a few fail (where “failure” may be defined as “not producing enough profit  for us to notice”), no big deal.

    Evernote doesn’t have a choice. They have to focus on Evernote or die. If they do it well enough, they’ll be really profitable. (I’m a paying customer.)

    Then Google might buy them, and kill off Keep (a la YouTube vs. Google Video). Google may be gambling against Evernote here, though, and hoping Keep kills off Evernote. In any case, I don’t mind there being some competition. There are lots of examples where a Google product killed of an entrenched encumbent that deserved to be killed off. (I’m hoping Facebook will be the next such company. Google+ is miles better.)

  2. That’s where Google blundered in killing Reader. Reader wasn’t experimental. It was an established product, well and heavily used by a core base devoted to the open-source RSS format. Google killed it despite that, citing lack of usage. So now Google products must pass a certain popularity quotient to gain longevity? In addition to the reasons cited by Mr. Fallows?

    I feel less like a customer than a test rat in Google’s extended beta labs.Thanks for the “free” services, Google. But I can’t trust you any more.

    1. They have to be able to monetise their services, either through analytics or advertising or fees, so I understand that. “If it’s free then you’re the product” and all that.

      The blunder is that they don’t see that the kind of people who used this established product are a desirable demographic for advertisers (info junkies are usually educated, affluent), a useful data mine for analytics, and would be willing and able to pay for the service.

      Oh, and the lack of usage business is complete BS. They just wanted to move all those users over to G+, for a social newsreading experience that’s totally useless for a Reader user.

      1.  Exactly.  I’d pay $5 or $10 a year to use Reader.  But I’m not going to go read everything through G+ because [insert all the ways in which G+ is not an RSS feed reader].

        Just found out yesterday that you can no longer leave reviews on Google Maps unless you want to do so with your “integrated” Google profile either.  No, Google, I don’t want people searching for my professional identity to know that I complained about the crappy drive-through service at my local McDonald’s, thanks, because it would get in the way of what they’re looking for.  Isn’t good search about narrowing results, not turning everything into a giant stew of indistinguishable results?

        1. I’m with you. $10 bucks a year to have kept Reader – no problem. I don’t even understand how G+ is close to being a substitute for it. In fact I had a quick look at my G+ account to see if they’d added something but nothing doing. Am I just supposed to follow the sites G+ feed?

          I used Reader for keeping track of webcomics (and a limited number of blogs) – if anyone can tell me how to use G+ for that, where I don’t have to read a lot of babble as well, then I’m quite prepared to try it. 

          Meanwhile I’m developing a love of Feedly – and they can have my ten bucks a year, or maybe even a bit more, if they ever get around to charging for their service.

          And of course the minute I heard about Google Keep I downloaded it because I’m stupid and I have learned nothing. 

    2.  I mean, I am seriously looking at my over-reliance on the Google ecosystem, & figuring out how to disengage.  Similarly, I’m not inclined to try out their new services, because– here is where they get into a no-win scenario– WHAT IF I LIKE THEM?  If Google puts out a bad service, I won’t use it.  If they put out a good service, I am concerned they’ll just trash it, so I won’t use it.  Lose/lose.

  3. This is exactly why I always keep important documents carved into stone tablets in Ugaritic cuneiform.  You can’t really know if this “paper” stuff is going to work out, and don’t get me started about non-runic alphabets!

  4. It seems to be Android-only for now, and as the article says- has a long way to go to be competitive with Evernote. As another Google user who has been bitten by them in the past- I will take a pass on it.

      1. Although this seems rather like Google Notebook. Which they killed after I got used to using it.

        I’m beginning to wonder whether they’re deliberately reviving it under another name to bag another load of suckers who will be caught out when they inevitably kill it again.

  5. Google’s planned elimination of Reader has destroyed my faith in their ability to hold on to products for the long term.

    I have no intention of dropping Evernote and Dropbox (both of which I pay for and will continue to pay for) for their “free” equivalents from Google. I would happily pay up for Google Reader if Google decided to convert it to a paid-for model or if someone else gave me a robust, multi platform look-alike.

    Sorry Google – you screwed up here. In the words of Mr. Churchill, “…this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

    I am reassessing everything I do with Google as a result of their Google Reader decision.

    Am I alone in this? I think not.

    1. I think the lesson we all should take away from this is that no cloud product is safe, ever. Abandoned local apps will still run if the original company shutters. Services that are not tied to just one provider have a chance of continuing.

      I think there is a good chance that we will see movement towards thinks like WebDAV and other protocols so that thinks like your Evernote connection can be set up to use a different repository. Perhaps some company will step up and offer centralised RSS feed collating to replace Google Reader? I hear Feedly is already working on it, though that then ties your app to their servers until they decide to go dark, and if we’re lucky they will add a way to manually enter the repo URL.

      1. Correct – Evernote could (with a certain diminishing scale of probability) be purchased tomorrow by a company with no interest in keeping their system the same and just shut down.  Sure, it’s unlikely, but it could happen.  Your best bet is anything you export to the “cloud” so that you can have it on mobile/any computer with a browser also should be cached locally.  At least Google makes it easy to leave and take your data with you, what about deciding you don’t want to use Facebook anymore and what a pain it is to get your stuff back? 

      2. My policy has been to only use cloud-based services that allow you to back up locally or otherwise liberate your data entirely. Evernote seems to get this.

        At first I thought Google Takeaway would also do that for my 1000s of starred Reader items, but it only returned a small portion. I had to go through a rigamorole with FeedDemon to pull them onto a local machine, and even there it only got about 3/4s of them.

          1. They have been, and it’s great. The implementation as far as Reader has been concerned has not been so good, though. Still hoping it’s a temporary glitch or an overload so I can get the other 1/4 of my stuff out.

        1. I’m with Evernote and Dropbox for these reasons – I can grab my stuff back – painful for sure but do-able. 

          Gmail would be more complicated still but I think that one is a stay-er within the Google world view. I’m not using anything else of theirs to any great extent except, maybe, Maps.

          I’ve now finished my OPML import to OldReader as a stop gap solution. I may go to Feedly (I’m trying that too) if they complete their server side solution. I would pay for that too…

          I just need a reliable solution which won’t collapse if the company providing gets bored…

      3.  I realized this years ago when they killed off Notebook, which is still the best notekeeping tool for my own personal workflows I’ve ever used. I find evernote… frustrating, for example.

        And why did they kill off notebook? To promote Google Wave. And then they killed off Wave!

        I just assume at this point that any Google product I like is one that is doomed to die, and that it is better to avoid them completely.

    2. You’re certainly not alone, but I think the response to this is going to be personal. If you had an important service pulled out from under you, you certainly need to think about what you are trusting with Google. On the other hand, if you weren’t a Reader user, it’s certainly good news for Google to stop spending money on stuff that isn’t important so they can focus on the stuff that is!

      But Fnordius is right, at the end of the day. You can’t trust the cloud. Unfortunately, you can’t trust local storage either, because if you aren’t burnt by DRM restrictions (e.g. ebooks), you can be burnt by old fashioned software obsolescence. I recently helped migrate a user with a 10 year old mac filled with Appleworks documents to a Windows PC — impossible to do perfectly, inconvenient and time consuming to do well. 

      The answer is to spend time and money having a plan for managing obsolescence, which will happen. Whether that means having another solution waiting for deployment, keeping good backups, or paying a lot of money to bind the vendor in contracts — that’s up to you.

      1. On the other hand, if you weren’t a Reader user, it’s certainly good news for Google to stop spending money on stuff that isn’t important so they can focus on the stuff that is!

        Maybe short term, but seeing a service ignore what its users want is never a good sign. Even if you only used Google+, the one thing they are sure to keep right now, it’s another warning they may well decide you have to use it differently.

  6. All I can say is, “Well, DUH!”. You never make yourself dependent on a service provided by someone else unless you have an iron-clad contract with them to provide that service complete with ruinous penalties for failure to perform (high enough to cover your cost of finding a replacement and shifting over to them, including the costs of disruption of your operations). It doesn’t matter if it’s Google or Amazon or Oracle or that kid down the block who fixes all your PC problems. And if you do have an iron-clad contract, you don’t depend on it beyond the end of that contract. If you’ve got a contract for 4 years, make plans for what happens at the end of that 4 years when the provider declines to renew the contract.

    Google’s better than most in this in that they have Google Takeout to give you an archive of your data for yourself. Not all services are included in it, but Google’s internal policy is to make as much of your data available in standard formats as possible. But I’m still going to be very careful about depending on them when I don’t have an iron-clad contract with them.

    1. For Reader not all your data in a particular service is included in it at the moment, so be forewarned. It’s also in json format, which while standard is not really importable into other feed readers.

      I appreciate that Google offers it at all, and any cloud-based service needs to have the same type of policy for me to use it. But even there you have to take a good close look at the completeness and format of the archive.

      1. How can I back up my data from years of using GMail? I don’t want to be stuck with nothing when they decide to pull that away.

          1.  I went to Takeout for my Reader info, and didn’t see Gmail anywhere in the list of backable applications.

            After I wake up, I’ll look at your link above. Thanks in advance.

          2. Is there some reason the standard POP and IMAP support is insufficient to get your mail out of Gmail?

          3. James, probably not in and of themselves, but just in my lack of understanding. Is there a web page you could point me to that would explain it? I also just realized I haven’t looked at Gracchus’s link yet — in my defense, I’m getting in some kinda work-like stuff on my day off, but still.

  7. My thoughts exactly. After what they did with Reader I’m not trusting them with another personal archiving/reference service aimed at geeky info junkies. Same with Google Drive — I only use it on an ad-hoc basis. Clearly I’m not alone.

    Gmail (not my primary personal e-mail anyhow) and Calendar and Contacts are so basic to these kinds of portal service offerings that I don’t worry about them being pulled. Google can monetise Maps and Search to their hearts’ content so they’re not going anywhere either. Android has been forked into enough mods that I don’t have too much concern there.

    The only one that worries me is Voice — I can see them pulling that and leaving me well and truly borked, but I don’t see any comparable alternatives at the moment.

    1. If the big unified messaging push many are expecting for Google IO flops, i expect Voice will be on the chopping block within 18 months.

  8. It’s called Google Keep — of *course* they aren’t going to kill it — if they were, they’d call it Google Discard, wouldn’t they?

  9. As soon as a company gets big enough to not care about individual customers, they seem to undergo a shift where they regard ALL their customers as just another individual that they can afford to lose.

    And then they act with institutional sociopathy.
    My daughter still has nightmares over Disney closing down Virtual Magic Kingdom; she lost most of her friends.  Disney killed them all, at once.

  10. Trader Joe’s shoppers are well acquainted with this syndrome.  Have a favorite (insert product here), and TJ’s will discontinue it after, oh, about 6 weeks following your discovery.

    1.  I am still mourning the loss of their crepe mix that was a clone of the stuff IKEA carries that is often out of stock.

  11. I’m reading this article on a Google Reader (RSS reader) clone that I’m writing, because I don’t like any of the alternatives and I realize that any of the services might go away at any time, or be filtering what I see or selling my data.

  12. Let’s see. I have a Mac, an iPad, and an iPhone. And I have two years of notes and bits and fragments in Evernote. And a paid subscription – not because I need any of the paid features, but because I want to make sure the servers keep running. I can even search for text in sketchbook pages full of scribbled story notes.

    Google Keep, meanwhile, is free. But it only has an Android client. It seems to have some sort of half-assed hack to access your notes from the web via Google Drive. And a history of closing down stuff that never quite caught on.

    The video of the client looks very colorful and Windows 8ish. I don’t think that’s a compelling argument to migrate from Evernote.

    Iiii am thinking that Keep is going to be quietly closed down a year or three from now.

  13. I never trusted Evernote because of the privacy issues – they have to have cleartext access to your data so they can do things like format conversion, OCR, and audio transcription, and while they might have a Don’t Be Evil policy, it’s tougher to have a Don’t Get Subpoenaed policy.  They do charge money for some services, unlike Google, so they probably don’t have the privacy issues about advertising, but there’s still risk. 

  14. And now I’m very worried about Google Groups and through it access to the old dejanews usenet archive…

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