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Thank You, ShareBros: On the End of Google Reader’s Sharing Party

October 26, 2011

Image via DCist

One time at my old job, a coworker asked me how I knew so much about some bewilderingly random topic. “Some people go home and watch TV,” I told her. “I go home and read blogs.” It’s a little hyperbolic (sometimes I read blogs while watching TV!), but by and large I spend a lot of my free time reading music and sports websites. When I joined Google Reader several years ago, I achieved a strange paradox with this spare time. By using Reader, I found I could keep up with more websites in a smaller period of time. Using a RSS reader meant that I saved time rereading news items I already read but forgot skimming, and let updates come to me rather than having to click through a few dozen bookmarks every time. Naturally, this increased time meant I could keep up with more websites, and my subscriptions grew bigger and bigger.

However, the thing that made Google Reader the essential part of my internet routine was the sharing features. Reader made it simple to share things with one button, but more importantly, it made keeping up with my friends’ shares incredibly easy. As my subscriptions piled up and my free time dwindled, there was always one section I kept current – my friends’ shared items and comments. Here, I discovered some of my favorite websites, funny memes, incredible deals, and different ideas. My friends’ curated this strange mix of posts that I might not have read on my own, that challenged my own thoughts, or made me care about a topic I only had a loose grasp upon previously.

So roughly a week ago, when Google announced that Reader’s social features would be stripped and be “available soon in Google+,many devoted users freaked out. Since then, my shared feed turned reflective, with many of my friends (or, in the parlance of the service, “ShareBros”) digging out their first and favorite shares (sometimes with amusing techniques to find this post) and waxing nostalgic about the impending changes (which, as of tonight, haven’t happened yet. Tomorrow will be one week since the announcement, so I would not be surprised to see them implemented any time now). A common theme arose in these posts, tweets, and shares: Google Reader is an important part of a lot of people’s days, and the social element is the most rewarding. Many went as far to call Reader’s shared feeds the best social network, or the most worthwhile, or whatever other superlative indicated its value.

For me, the value of Google Reader sharing goes beyond just the ease of use. Sharing in Reader, and the comments section that made sharing exponentially more valuable, created conversation. Sometimes, through other people’s shares, I had conversations with writers I admired and complete strangers with interesting opinions. More importantly, I kept in touch with my friends. Some of these friends I rarely saw, and through Reader and the comment section, I got an idea of the things they were into or the ideas they were chasing down. I could ask a question or provoke an argument and the comment section would light up. Most importantly, even if it was in a relatively tiny way, I felt like these people were part of my daily life. Sure, it wasn’t the same as when we lived together in college, or saw each other a few times a week, but it was better than nothing. Reader was (and continues to be, even though we live together) one of the ways that my girlfriend and I kept in touch throughout the day while living in separate states. Sometimes, on the phone at night, our conversation looped back into reader, and we shared a laugh about some strange cat picture, or discussed a post about marketing, or whatever. If I couldn’t get all my friends together for a dinner party, at least our ideas could come together, mingle, and sometimes inspire each other, even if it’s just to come up with stupid puns.

As I told my friends on Google Reader this afternoon, this won’t be the end of sharing. I’ll still share links (perhaps on this blog, which I guess would be a good thing for this), and I’ll still get into conversations with my friends about the things they write on their blogs or share on Twitter. We just won’t be at the same party anymore. Who knows, maybe we’ll find ourselves at another party, and maybe Google+ is the location (although I’m skeptical, but more on that another time perhaps). As for now, the party is ending, the music is running out, and we’re enjoying our last few minutes together before Google kicks us out in the cold to go share our separate ways.

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