There it Goes – Google Reader Gone for Good

Icon by http://icontexto.blogspot.de/  via Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike (by-nc-sa)First headline in this morning’s news: Goggle stopps Google Reader (please bear in mind, this link won’t work anymore in the future). Google wants to power down the Google Reader among other APIs and services since the 2011 spring clean. Personally, I am affected the third time by Google’s cut downs after the Feedburner burnout last year.

While I was annoyed in the very first moment, I had to think through various perspectives, not just coming up with yet another rant post about Google’s attitudes.

The Business Point of View
Google is not doing anything wrong (I guess) from a business point of view. They simply cut down projects, teams or cost centers with no or little revenue. I have seen this several times during my time at Microsoft where teams or studios where shut down due to a revenue not meeting the expectations. Larry Page wanted to focus on core products and  less speculative projects which does make sense considering the shareholders beyond Google. Consequently, cutting down free services not being paid for, requiring manpower for development an maintenance and (not to underestimate) bare metal down in Google’s data centers is a plan to increase revenues, cut down losses and save not to spend money.

The User ‘s Point of View
As a user, you might rely on these services. Maybe you build up your website based on various Google APIs (as they have been free), you maintained you RSS feed in Google Reader and so on. Even with several weeks of notice, you need to change technologies, maybe rebuild or recode you page, and even worse to change habits. At some point in time, after this happened one, two or three times (depending on your very personal potential to suffer).

The Developer’s Point of View
There are quite many apps, tools and pages out there heavily depending or based on Google’s API including Google Reader. Not only their apps and tools stop working, also users who bought these products will be forced to stop using these tools. With feedly, there is timely an alternative Reader and with Normandy developers get an API they might use for their products. However, Nick Bradbury already announced to stop working on the Windows client FeedDemon which heavily depends on the Google API for synchronization.More will definitely follow…

The Consequences
As developer, I was affected once before, as user I am affected the second time by now. By cutting down both services I am left with Google Calendar. While Google might or might not continue this service in the future, one might rethink if using it is a good choice. Keep in mind, we do not pay for it as users and the Google App Sync meanwhile is only available for business users (probably paying for it). Google Calendar Sync was a great tool to sync between Outlook and Google Calendar. I fought my way through the setup using Windows 7 three years ago right after they stopped development for it.

There is already an petition for keeping Google Reader alive, supported by more than 35,000 users (nothing compared to he 10 Mio user susing G+ stated by Larry Page). Still chances that Google will continue the service are less than probably.

The Business Point of View Revisited
I wonder if Google thought of charging for these services. I wonder if one (e.g. I) would pay for such a service. It definitely would depend on the amount they would charge. A few bucks a year won’t hurt and with a few ten thousands of users they might pay the bills for this service one might think. On the other hand, a company like Google might not be interested in any service with less than ten million $$$ of revenue (please put in whatever amount you think is suitable) or a million of users…

How to get the favicon.ico from any Page

Recently, I was in the need of retrieving the favicon.ico file from a website. As I had to process the file programmatically and render it on a website, it would have been quite a lot of manual work to get the .ico file and make sure the browser does render it in the correct way. After digging around, I learned about a secret URI probably provided once by Google’s social bookmarking service Google Shared Stuff. While Google Shared Stuff was launched in 2007,  it was already discontinued in 2009. However, this one URI seems to work perfectly maybe because it is still used within Google extensively.

The Secret

To get the favicon.ico file from any arbitrary page you simply have to use an URI using the following pattern:

http://www.google.com/s2/favicons?domain=www.example.org

Eventually, this URI will provide you the following image: Image retrieved using http://www.google.com/s2/favicons?domain=www.example.org

How it Works

Some More examples to see how it works:

  • Facebook
  • TechChrunch
  • aheil blog
  • Google
  • dotnetpro Magazine
  • heise.de
  • Google+

As most of the sites do keep their favicon.ico file right in the root of the web site, others like Google don’t. Actually, you might find Google’s plus icon located at

https://ssl.gstatic.com/s2/oz/images/faviconr2.ico

While this is probably not a problem retrieving the favicon.ico file using the standard URI at all, the secret URI provides one major advantage: you’ll get the icon as a nice 16×16 PNG file, ready to be rendered in any <img> tag right away.

The Risk

As every time building up on a Google service as I did before, it might disappear tomorrow without notice leaving your site with quite a bunch of 404s though. Even worse, as it seems there is no official support for this URI, there won’t be any notice or deprecation period until switched of as done for other services like Feedburner.

Feddburner Burnout

It is officially, the Google Feedburner APIs have been deprecated and will be officially shut down in the near future after being bought for about $100 million in 2007.

“Important: The Google Feedburner APIs have been officially deprecated as of May 26, 2011 will be shut down on October 20, 2012.”

For all readers of this blog subscribed to the google Feedburner feed, it has not been available using the URI http://www.feedburner.com/aheil probably providing a 404 error code for the last few days. The Feed Stats dashboard already shows that the feed has subscribers anymore.

. Feedburner Stats

Therefore, everybody looking for a RSS feed of this blog should switch over to http://www.aheil.de/feed?rss2.

I used Feedburner even before acquired from Google. It was a great way to aggregate various sources of information on the web. Even with a deprecation time of three years, it is quite a loss as Feedburner provided a great way of mashing up data sources. Probably this service did not generate sufficient revenue for Google…

Cross-domain Mash-up using Google Feed API

If you want to retrieve cross-domain content via AJAX/JavaScript to build a mash-up client, browsers might restrict these calls upon security reasons.

Digging through the resources on the Web, you might figure out that there are various approaches. I decided against any server-side processing of the request as I did not want to make an extra call to the my server. Also any jQuery plugin related approach would not work at the moment due to recent unavailability of jQuery plugins.

Looking for an alternative approach I came along the Google Feed API. Basically, it allows you to download any public Atom or RSS feed and consuming it in your JavaScript.

Once you got your API key which is based on the domain you want to call the API from, you can immediately  start using it.  The key is valid for all pages within this domain. Usage of the API includes adding the script your head of the HTML, loading the API using Google Loader’s load()call and finally hooking up your code as call-back in the setOnLoadCallback function. The feed is then provided either as JSON or as XML by the Google Feed API and can be easily used within you code without any cross-domain restrictions.

Google Plus Operator

Google has replaced the + (plus) operator for their search. While looking for a certain expression (using the plus operator) Google tells that from now an double quotation marks are necessary to find an exact expression.

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Not sure if I like this, however, it looks like there are not many options to ignore this change. This probably has to do with all the G+ notation. It feels to me as bad as product and event names like .net or build which in combination with the new double quotation mark operator find some 2,490,000,000 results not relevant at all.

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