The Cost of Google Reader

Om Malik has a fantastic conversation with the creator of Google Reader, Chris Wetherell, wherein he admits the product he created lived on borrowed time. More interesting to me, however, is the part about how much it cost Google to keep Reader up and running.

In my initial post about Google shutting down Reader, I asked, “How difficult/financially arduous would it be to hire one or two engineers to oversee the product and make incremental updates?”

As it turns out, according to Wetherell, quite a bit:

For instance, it was Google Crawler that gave the system ability to make lightning-fast connections and bring up recommendations. It is one of the main reasons it cannot be open sourced. The systems are too intertwined with Google’s search and other infrastructure to be sold as well.

In addition, Google had a separate recommendations team fine-tuning Google Reader, and those people don’t come in cheap. And let’s not forget that it was Google’s infrastructure that allowed millions of accounts to be hosted and many billions of items — photos, videos, text objects — to be saved for people to consume them at their leisure.

It wasn’t — and it still isn’t — a cheap exercise, said Wetherell, rationalizing why he somewhat understands Google’s predicament.

It’s obvious that Google Reader was destined for closing because it was a costly service that could not easily be monetized by Google.

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