Today in Tech: Why Google Reader never had a chance

December 10, 2012: 5:30 AM ET

Also: how startups are tracking you to build a cyber reputation; how living room PCs will take on video game consoles.

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The story behind Google's much-beloved Reader.

Google's lost social network [BUZZ FEED]

The difficulty was that Reader users, while hyperengaged with the product, never snowballed into the tens or hundreds of millions. Brian Shih became the product manager for Reader in the fall of 2008. "If Reader were its own startup, it's the kind of company that Google would have bought. Because we were at Google, when you stack it up against some of these products, it's tiny and isn't worth the investment," he said. At one point, Shih remembers, engineers were pulled off Reader to work on OpenSocial, a "half-baked" development platform that never amounted to much. "There was always a political fight internally on keeping people staffed on this little project," he recalled. Someone hung a sign in the Reader offices that said "DAYS SINCE LAST THREAT OF CANCELLATION." The number was almost always zero. At the same time, user growth — while small next to Gmail's hundreds of millions — more than doubled under Shih's tenure. But the "senior types," as Bilotta remembers, "would look at absolute user numbers. They wouldn't look at market saturation. So Reader was constantly on the chopping block."

The rise and fall of Jeremy Hammond: Enemy of the state [ROLLING STONE]

Even before the arrest broadcast his name worldwide, Hammond was well-known in extreme-left circles. An early champion of "cyber-liberation," he had been described by Chicago magazine at the age of 22 as an "electronic Robin Hood" after he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for hacking a conservative website and making off with 5,000 credit-card numbers, intending to charge donations to progressive causes. But unique within the hacking subculture, Hammond was also a real-life revolutionary: a "modern-day Abbie Hoffman," in the words of his friend Matt Muchowski. He possessed a shrewd intelligence as well as a certain impulsivity – a fellow hacker referred to it as "urgency" – that had led to a long string of civil-disobedience arrests dating back 10 years, for offenses ranging from defacing a wall with anti-war slogans to banging a drum during a "noise demo" at the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. (He later called his brief stint in the Tombs his "best prison experience.") Hammond was even busted once, in 2005, for trying to join a protest, against a group of white supremacists in Toledo, Ohio. "They hadn't even gotten out of the car when they were arrested," says Muchowski, a Chicago union organizer who bailed Hammond out.

A vault for taking charge of your online life [THE NEW YORK TIMES]

Mr. Fertik, 34, is the chief executive of Reputation.com, a company that helps people manage their online reputations. From his perch here in Silicon Valley, he views the digital screens in our lives, the smartphones and the tablets, the desktops and the laptops, as windows of a house. People go about their lives on the inside, he says, while dozens of marketing and analytics companies watch through the windows, sizing them up like peeping Toms.

They know what you're shopping for [WALL STREET JOURNAL]

The use of real identities across the Web is going mainstream at a rapid clip. A Wall Street Journal examination of nearly 1,000 top websites found that 75% now include code from social networks, such as Facebook's"Like" or Twitter's "Tweet" buttons. Such code can match people's identities with their Web-browsing activities on an unprecedented scale and can even track a user's arrival on a page if the button is never clicked.

Twitter aims to release photo filters in time for the holidays [ALL THINGS D]

The goal is to release the camera filters in an application update in time for the holiday season, these sources say. The new version of the app is currently in testing, which may be why we're seeing Twitter chairman Jack Dorsey post so many black-and-white filtered photos of his Square employees (not to mention the wing of his plane at takeoff, posted just this Saturday morning).

Gabe Newell: Living room PCs will compete with next-gen consoles [KOTAKU]

"I think in general that most customers and most developers are gonna find that [the PC is] a better environment for them," Newell told me. "Cause they won't have to split the world into thinking about 'why are my friends in the living room, why are my video sources in the living room different from everyone else?' So in a sense we hopefully are gonna unify those environments."

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About This Author
JP Mangalindan
JP Mangalindan
Writer, Fortune

JP Mangalindan is a San Francisco-based writer at Fortune, covering Silicon Valley. Since joining in 2010, he has written on a wide array of topics, from the turnaround of eBay to the evolution of net neutrality. A graduate of Fordham University, Mangalindan has also written for GQ, Popular Science, and Entertainment Weekly.

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