In America, the fury over Google’s decision to kill Google Reader might seem like an overhyped brouhaha from privileged technophiles with too much time on their hands, but in countries where Internet censorship is the norm, some users are saying the death of Google Reader will kill their access to online information.
In response to a statement from Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) saying it will discontinue its popular RSS service on July 1, one Google Reader fan posted a petition to Change.org asking the company to reconsider. The petition has since been signed by 136,000 people, and although such a response is unlikely to change the decision of a company whose users number in the billions, a noteworthy pattern has emerged among some of the Change.org users who commented on the petition.
According to Charlotte Hill, a communications manager for Change.org, many of the comments came from people “living under oppressive regimes” who say shutting down Google Reader is like shutting down their access to the outside world. As commenter Yaroslav Sedyshev from Kazakhstan wrote, “[In my country] many blog services are banned by government, so google reader in one of the easy ways to access banned content. I'm using it every day and i'd be very upset if it's no longer available.”
Another commenter from China echoed that concern: “Google Reader is essential for many Chinese Web users like me to circumvent Internet censorship here. Love the product. Please don’t let it go.”
Similar comments came from elsewhere in those countries, as well as from commenters in Belarus and Iran. Hill said Change.org was able to confirm the IP addresses of the commenters. All but one, she said, came from the countries in which the users claimed to reside. Moreover, 75 percent of the petition signatures came from outside the U.S., and 12 percent came from countries that Reporters Without Borders or the OpenNet Initiative have identified as having Internet censorship
Pedram Alvandi, a social media expert and Google Reader user in Iran, told IBTimes that access to most well-known international news sites are blocked in his country, as are social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube. But he said Reader’s integration with Gmail makes it possible to access blocked content.
“Your website [IBTimes.com] is blocked right now,” Alvandi said. “I cannot read it or even subscribe to its RSS feed. But because Reader is part of my Gmail, and it is not blocked, I can access that and search your official name [International Business Times] in Google Reader’s search box. It gives me all your RSS feed to subscribe.”
Without Google Reader, Alvandi said he would be forced to seek out an anti-proxy website such as Filter Shekan, which would slow down the speed of his already extremely slow Internet. Currently, Iran has the slowest Internet in the region with 155 mbps, according to Net Index.
Google’s decision to kill Reader may have angered many users, but Alvandi said he’s just disappointed in the company. “It seems that Google doesn’t care about its loyal audiences,” he said. “They’re thinking more of Google Plus’s success. They already showed that by eliminating the social media features in Reader a while back.”
In the meantime, no shortage of alternative RSS services have been hoping to win over Reader’s user base. So far, Feedly appears to be the frontrunner, having seen its number of users mushroom by about half a million in the last few days.
Alvandi said he is testing out Flipboard along with a few other alternatives to find the RSS best suited for his needs. “I’m not very impressed by alternatives yet,” he said. “But I’m hopeful that Google’s competitors will provide something soon.”
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