The End of Google

I have been on the internet for a long time. I was writing email back in 1988, that's a couple of years before Tim Berners-Lee wrote his proposal for the World Wide Web. Back then, I had an email address that didn't even have an “@” sign in it – the domain name system required for them was only just becoming established.

It was a decade later when Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched their project to crawl everything on the web and index it. There had been AltaVista before them but Google was different – clean and fast. They just wanted to offer the best possible service. To begin with they had no adverts at all. I remembered wondering how they could possibly make money out of it, never imagining that they could be worth billions in a few short years.

And Google has changed my life. Everywhere I go, I take the font of all knowledge with me – Google on my iPhone. But they have brought us so much more. When Gmail was launched with 1GB of capacity on 1st April, that was so huge that I was completely convinced that it was a prank. They put a complete map of the globe at your fingertips. Then added detailed satellite images so that I can compare kite flying sites from my desk. Next, they added street view, so that I can identify houses and offices before I leave home. I might be an iPhone user myself but that is a closed, proprietary system, and Google run Android to provide a free alternative. Just today, I have used Google translate for Finnish, Arabic and Hindi. As well as funding kite projects that my friends are involved in to explore clean energy options, they are providing the backing to Sebastian Thrun's project to save one million lives per year by developing driverless cars which are not prone to killing people through human error.

And they do this under the mantra of their motto: “Don't Be Evil”.

This principle stands in stark relief when seen against the backdrop of the rest of the tech sector. Microsoft, Oracle, Yahoo!, Facebook are like filth compared to Google.

But today, I think they changed. They have announced that they are dropping Google Reader. I'm sure that a lot of people won't know what it is or why it is useful, so let me explain: Many sites, particularly news and blog sites publish a syndication file, which is updated with each new entry that is published. If you want to track the site, you click on the icon and add it to the list of things to want to keep an eye on.

It is a great way to keep an eye on low-traffic sites. If the author only writes an entry every month or so, you don't have to remember to go back and check – whenever he does an update, it will be flagged in your list for your attention. It is handy for high-traffic sites too. You can quickly scroll through the list of topics and select only the ones that you want to actually go and read.

The system behind it is open – Google Reader is not the only syndication system, there are plenty of other syndication aggregators which use the same files. But I chose Google Reader simply because it is Google. In choosing the Google option, I wasn't picking a startup which might be here today and gone tomorrow. I wasn't picking an organisation like Facebook that would act fast and loose with my privacy or abuse me in some other way that I hadn't anticipated. I chose Google Reader because I trusted that Google would be the right choice.

I feel like I have been betrayed by a close friend, someone that I trusted. They may change their mind and apologise later but that would never be the same as not having been betrayed in the first place.