Google Reader Shutdown Tidbits #

Based a lunch with Alan Green at Google on June 21, 2013. Posted on April 20, 2024, but backdated to the time that this was written in a private document.

The shutdown timing was mainly technical. There have been enough infrastructure changes that the Reader codebase has rotted, and it cannot be pushed to prod anymore. It sounded like there hadn't been any pushes for ~6 months. I'm pretty I pushed shortly before I left (October 2012), so it's a bit surprising that the code rotted that quickly.

The shutdown is mainly being handled by the SREs (Alan will actually be on vacation for the two weeks before July 1). It effectively sounded like they were going to be removing the GFE rules on July 1, and then take their time actually turning off any servers, since that actually involves understanding how things work and what depends on what. The FRBEs will definitely be running for a while longer, since there are other Google services that depend on them.

All of the feed data is going to be given to the Feeds team in Zurich (they also inherited the PubSubHubbub hub and maybe even the AJAX Feed API). They will hopefully archive it. Matt Cutts has been part of the cabal that has been trying to make the shutdown be handled as reasonably as possible.

He said politics didn't really factor into it. If it had been politics, the easiest thing would have been to do nothing, and let the service run as is idefinitely. Wipeout (Reader is not compliant, data for deleted Gaia accounts is still present) was a slight factor, but if that had been the only reason, it still would have been easier to let it keep running.

Once the shutdown decision was made, they needed to put someone's name on the blog posts (Google Blog, Reader Blog). Alan said he was OK with his name being on the Reader Blog, since he was the last engineer standing. However, it didn't make sense for this name (as a random engineer) to be on a Google Blog post that announced the shutting down of several services. It made more sense for a VP, or at least a director. PR asked several directors and VPs (including Alan Noble, the SYD site director), and they all begged off, saying that they had (external) people they were going to be meeting in the next couple of weeks, and if their name was on the blog post, they would just get a lot of hate about shutting down Reader. PR then asked Alan, and after thinking about it, he declined. PR thanked him for seriously considering it, and then went to Alan's manager and asked him to ask Alan. Alan declined again. PR asked his manager to ask him again, and Alan said he would only do it if they promoted him to director, and that was the last that he heard of it. Eventually Urs said he would be OK with putting his name on it. Alan seemed to have a pretty good opinion of Urs; that of all the VPs he was most willing to speak truthfully about Reader.

PR also gave Alan a document for posting to reader-discuss@ and internal Google+. It was apparently terrible, but he was at least allowed to rewrite it. In general it sounded like PR is now very involved in internal communications; Alan sounded rather cynical about that.

The blog post announcing the shutdown was done one day early. The idea was to take the opportunity of the new Pope being announced and Andy Rubin being replaced as head of Android, so that the Reader news may be drowned out. PR didn't apparently realize that the kinds of people that care about the other two events (especially the Pope) are not the same kind of people that care about Reader, so it didn't work.

This also screwed up the internal announcement plans. The idea had been to announce the management reshuffle on Tuesday, have a town hall about it Wednesday morning, and then announce the Reader shutdown on Wednesday afternoon, leaving TGIF (now on Thursdays) as the venue to discuss it. Since it all happened on Tuesday, the townhall ended up being dominated with Reader questions. They continued at TGIF, to the point where Sergey held up a microphone cable and said “If I bite down on this, will the pain stop?” Urs was the only VP who had decent answers to the Reader questions (Matt Cutts in particular spoke for a while defending Reader). About a month (?) later, there was a “bring your parent(s) to work day”, at which they held a special TGIF in Shoreline Amphitheatre. Parents were apparently encouraged to ask questions, and the first parent asked about the Reader shutdown, which elicited a lot of laughter from all the Googlers.

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