Opportunity lost or no appetite for paid services?

In the recent weeks there have been a number of people (read tech nerds) seem to be moving away from Google services. This is happening for a plethora of reasons from personal preference, perceived or real violated trust or the creepy nature in which Google appears to be moving. There have been articles and podcasts all over the place about this vary topic. One of issues that seems to be the hardest to move away from is Google Reader. Even if you are not using Google Reader on the web, almost[1] all of the RSS application readers regardless of platform require you to have a Google Reader account. The primary reason for this is to be able to sync already read items from one device to the other. From the research I have done the only exception to this is Fever. Fever is a self hosted RSS account that allows you to bypass Google altogether. But I think the vast majority of people reading in RSS readers do not have the resources in order to pull this off. Better put this is not a consumer ready product this is more for the tech savvy user with their own hardware to pull this off.

Opportunity

The Google Reader service has created a very simple way to sign up, store your OPML file, and watch what items you have read so that you can grab another device and pickup where you left off.

I am sure it is not an easy feat to accomplish. I am sure it requires tremendous resources to do this but I can’t help but feel like there is a huge opportunity here for some company to take advantage of. There is a model in place now works and could still be improved on. Something things that I would love to see or would be willing to handle to move off the platform.

Mandatory 

  • Simple and easy sign up process
  • The ability to import your existing OPML file
  • Cross device / Platform support
  • Support from popular reading clients. (Reeder, Flipboard, Pulse etc.)

In my mind a simple and easy signup process does not mean just creating a sign-up process that asks me for my Facebook or Twitter credentials login credentials. I actually hate sites like these that hand over your information to others. I am looking for basic account sign up, username, emails address perhaps a preference question about my preferred reading device. End of story.

Since OPML files are very common don’t make me re-subscribe to every site I read to get it into your system, allow me to just import my list.

I live in the Apple world but not everyone does. As the sync provider perhaps you don't have to worry as much about the client device as much as the developer support. RSS has been around long enough that it should not matter. Providing developers with a good API so that you are able to get great platform support from the variants of RSS readers out there.

Things I would be willing to give up

  • A web version
  • A limit on the number of syncs a day (or a regularly updated sync schedule- every hour)

Perhaps I am in the minority here but I rarely use the web version of Google Reader. I have in desperation but I usually have a device with me to allow me access to my feeds if I really needed them. Worse case scenario is I could visit the 4–5 must read sites via the web in a pinch. I think if you build a rich enough system the web becomes a nice to have not a mandatory like in the past. Look at Instagram. There is no web site - only a link to render one particular page if something is shared with me. The site continues to grow.

If bandwidth is an issue perhaps capping the number of syncs you can do a day would be a way to initially limit the a user. I know this would not work for everyone but it could be a start. I find with work and other activities I am generally refreshing my devices 3–4 times a day and then sitting down to sift through the information.

Things I be willing to would do

  • Pay for this service ! In a membership or subscription model for the application.

I wonder if the biggest reason an alternative service like this does not exist is because of cost? In a world of free, freemium and other advertising models no one wants to pay for anything.

If your service is completely free you are probably going the VC route to get huge and tell everyone you have 1 billion users! (oh and by the way those users are costing me a fortune and I am not sure how to recoup my money so I would like some of yours). The next logical step for most of these providers is the second oldest occupation in the world – sell ads[2], sell your data etc. Ruin the experience. We dont have to look far to see examples of this. Facebook, Twitter promoted ads, Gmail and the list goes on.

I admit at one point I was probably one of your clients. But the more you disrupt my user expereince and take me away/distract me from your core goods or service, the sooner I am likely to leave your service. I also have recognized where there is huge value in paying for the service. I admit that my preference many times is to a demo and make sure it fits in my workflow before I commit to it but I am more than willing to pay for the service.

One one of my favorite applications that I use daily is Instapaper. Instapaper is a paid application. It sells in the App store for $4.99. Done. No issue. I am very happy to support independent developers who make beautiful and wonderful functioning applications. I think Marco Arment (@marcoarment) has done just this. Not to long ago Instapaper added the ability to search your archives. This was not a service that Marco could take on and eat the cost of for his X number of users. So he instituted a paid add-on. So for $1 a month you have that ability to search all your saved pieces if you need it. I paid for the application initially and now I needed the other service so I was willing to pay for it. It means that much to me. I don't want to see the application go away and I want to support independent work.

Starting a business with no clear way to make money still confounds me. Clearly it works, but it is not the type of business I personally would want to start. Once you start offering everything for free, to get the user base to move to the paid model is disruptive at best. Some customers will feel like it is a bait and switch tactic.

I wish someone would created an alternative to Google Reader account. If you do please let me know as I will be one of the first customers to sign up.


  1. Net Newswire is an example of an RSS reader that can work independently as a stand alone reader or with Google services. I think you just do not get the benefit of the read articles across various devices without using Google.  ↩

  2. I don't classify Ads via the Deck in the same group as everyone else. Their model is more specialized and by invite only. Only one small add will appear on the website and they are well designed and generally pertaintnent to the user.  ↩