You can create a great reputation by building something awesome.
You can create an awful reputation by building something horrible.
But, did you know that you can also create a reputation management issue by killing something mediocre?
Well, Google knows all about it, after announcing that it would shut down Google Reader on July 1st.
The announcement was buried among a handful of other services the search giant said would be shut down as they were no longer part of the company’s core offering. While Google probably looked at Google Reader and saw minimal users, a mediocre product sorely in need of updates, and no apparent way to monetize it, what it did not see was just how passionately users would respond.
Within minutes Twitter was ablaze with bloggers, journalists and other techies doing a ceremonial Chicken Little dance. Meanwhile, petitions were started to try and persuade Google to change its mind–because, you know, petitions work so well in getting our government to change its mind.
A quick look at my Trackur dashboard shows that a lot of influential people are writing articles about the announcement:
The problem Google now faces is whether it wishes to ride out the backlash it didn’t (or maybe it did) see coming. While Google Reader may not be a money maker for Google, it is a product that generates a lot of goodwill. It’s a product that contributes towards Google’s overall reputation. If this were just a few loyal users complaining, then Google might choose to just ignore it. But, when you have journalists and bloggers complaining–the ones that actually user Google Reader to (ironically) keep track of news about Google–the stakes are much higher.
It reminds me more of when Yahoo announced that it would shutter Delicious
I’ve not seen an official response from Google. Google is not afraid to shut down services that have a passionate following, but this does feel different. It reminds me more of when Yahoo announced that it would shutter Delicious. That uproar led to Yahoo selling off Delicious so it could live on. A solution for Google, perhaps?
In any event, the reputation lesson here is that your reputation is not just built around the products that make you money. Not everything can be about the Benjamins. While Google may not make money from Google Reader, it may lose money, if enough influencers make enough noise. Something to keep in mind for anyone considering shutting down a product that doesn’t apparently generate value to their brand. That value may not be seen until it is too late!