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Strategic analysis
The Culture of Free and The Future of Google

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Written by on March 28, 2013

Two weeks ago Google announced that they would be closing down Google Reader, and last week they launched Google Keep. The two products have nothing in common, but the timing was not what you would call perfect.

A lot of people, angry about the prospect of losing Google Reader, commented that we can't trust Google Keep to stick around either.

John Gruber wrote:

Trust your thoughts and ideas to the makers of Google Reader. Good luck with that.

Om Malik wrote:

It might actually be good, or even better than Evernote. But I still won't use Keep. You know why? Google Reader.

I spent about seven years of my online life on that service. I sent feedback, used it to annotate information and they killed it like a butcher slaughters a chicken. No conversation - dead. The service that drives more traffic than Google+ was sacrificed because it didn't meet some vague corporate goals; users - many of them lifelong - be damned.

And many others shared similar sentiments.

I get why people are saying this, and part of me agrees. Closing down Google Reader is awful because it was such a useful tool, and we simply don't have any other product that can match it. Services like Feedly are great, but the key to Google Reader was how it integrated with 3rd party services.

I understand why people are angry, I share your point of view.

But there is a much larger trend here that explains why Google Reader had to go, and why new services like Google Keep are not just yet another free service that Google might close down in the future.

It all has to do with the future of Google and the end of the free culture of the web.

The end of free

For most the 2000s, the dominant culture on the internet was free, either supported by advertising, or by the vague idea that having a ton of data about people would make money rain down from the goldmine in the cloud.

In terms of data, we haven't really seen that many examples of the value of data yet. Sure, Facebook bought Instagram for one billion dollars, but that is perceived value that cannot be translated into real money outside the imaginary world of the shareholders and venture capitals.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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