This week, Google announced that it will shut down Google Reader on July 1, 2013. In its announcement, Google states that it’s doing this because the usage of Google Reader has declined and it wants to concentrate on fewer products. There was a lot of buzz online about this decision, and some fanatical Google Reader fans put together a petition to keep the RSS reader alive. They garnered more than 50,000 signatures in just a few hours.
This whole debate sparked my interest, and I analyzed Forrester’s Technographics® data to get a better understanding of the usage of RSS feeds over time. I found that Google is right about the decline. Our data shows that it was always only a dedicated group who used RSS feeds at least weekly — about 7% of US online adults in 2008; this had declined to just over 4% last year, with about one in 10 US online adults using RSS feeds about monthly.
For years, brand marketers have guessed at people’s affinities from the barest of demographic, geographic, and contextual clues. We deduce that Midwestern men prefer pickup trucks and that people watching extreme sports like energy drinks, and then we spend billions advertising to these inferred affinities.
But today, we no longer have to guess. Every day huge numbers of people online tell us what they like. They do this by clicking a ‘like’ button, of course — but there are many other ways people express affinity: talking about things on Twitter and in blogs; reviewing things on Amazon and Yelp; spending time with content on YouTube (and telling us where they’re spending their offline time on Foursquare); and sharing things through both public and private social channels.
People’s rush to post their affinities online recalls another flood of data that began a decade ago: the explosion in online searches. John Battelle once described the data created by search as the “database of intentions,” which I’d define as “a catalogue of people’s needs and desires collected by observing their search behaviors.” In the same way, the result of all these online expressions of “liking” has created the “database of affinity,” which Forrester defines as:
A catalogue of people’s tastes and preferences collected by observing their social behaviors.