Why Killing Google Reader Was a Mistake

Google, as an advertising company, relies on its audience.

Audiences are notoriously difficult to cultivate. Talk to any of the scores of media executives with tastes impeccable and checks unemployment; they’ll likely spin you a tale of a once-killer audience that evanesced as quickly as it grew, never quite sure of how it became, and doubly unsure of how it dissolved.

In the tech industry, though, there’s a fairly reliable demographic around which you can build your brand: The Alpha Technologist. In traditional marketing jargon, they are the tastemakers, the thought leaders. The alpha technologist adopts, recommends, and sets defaults.

From the beginning, Google relied on the alpha. The alpha discovered them, promoted them, told anyone who would listen to “drop your infoseeks and alta vistas. Google is as pure and effective a search as you’ll find”. And users listened, because these were people that knew. They are the connoisseurs and the curators, the researchers and the advisors. The “computer guy”. Even the “computer guys” worth eight figures with art collections.

They are the default. They are who you ask when you’re considering a new home theater pc or smartphone. And they built Google’s audience right up to the moment Google broke through the crust and exposed an historically rich vein of advertising dollars, advertising dollars that continue to provide every single cent of usable revenue for Google.

And by killing Reader, Google lost scores of them. Information junkies and technologists were the primary audience for Reader, and they are the tastemakers.

Google Keep launched this week to widespread ambivalence amongst its key demographic – the alpha technologists – largely owing to Google’s unceremonious shuttering of Reader. The trust is gone and the love, well, the love is looking for a home.

Now mind you, Google isn’t going begging. Their search audience is too large, too entrenched to be affected by the disgust of a few dozen thousand users. Hell, most Google users are unaware that a product named Reader even existed, much less feel any kind of emotion in response to its death.

But they still need those die-hards, those tastemakers to launch their new products, and I don’t think they’ll be back.

And when there’s a better search? Or whatever’s beyond search? The alphas will be there, and they’ll be setting new defaults.