FORTUNE — They must have known in Mountain View that the biggest howl would come from the press — all us news junkies, crying over our loss. For five years going there has been nothing better than Google’s stripped-down RSS reader for plowing through story after story with astonishing speed.
And now, come July 1, it will be no more.
The amount of information I gather on Reader in one-minute spurts, sprinkled throughout my day, still feels incredible. And best of all: The feeds are my own selection. As much as I love “discovering” content on Twitter, I adored tending my own garden, filling platform with feeds specific to my tastes. So my sentiments match those the Reddit thread dedicated to the shutdown, or the Twitter hashtag #savegooglereader, or the Hitler video (an old meme resuscitated for an old platform), or the Change.org petition: How can Google say “don’t be evil” and then kill off a product so beloved?
Google’s explanation is terse: “There are two simple reasons for this: Usage of Google Reader has declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience.”
Both points are no doubt true. Or true-ish. Usage may have declined in sheer number of users, but Readers are a powerful bunch: We are nerds!
Reader drives more traffic to websites than Google+, the social-media project Google seems focused on. This is a shame, and I’m not just saying that because I will miss Google Reader terribly, but because Reader was a brilliant little social network. Emphasis on little. Even though Google took away most of the neat sharing functions in 2010, when it rolled out Google+, it still was one of the best ways to find stories and pass them on: on Twitter, Facebook, or even email.
In a comprehensive look at the service, Rob Fishman summed up Reader’s role in the social web thusly: “Facebook (FB) may well achieve an equilibrium, but it is social to a fault; the network, like a heaving, many-headed Narcissus, rallies mostly around itself. Reader pivoted on the fulcrum of content, unearthed and spread in equal parts.”
That’s it exactly.
Reader was a space for a very specific type of information junkie to gather and share other bits of information with other junkies/nerds. So Google is shutting Reader down because there weren’t enough nerds to make it worthwhile. Fine. Google is a massive company and no doubt sees better ways to make money.
To my mind this speaks to a larger problem on the social web. The titans (Google, Facebook) don’t seem content building smaller, more precious sideshows — they want to be the platform, the body to the many-headed Narcissus.
But why does there have to be just one social network, one platform, when we contain multitudes?