I just got the Google Reader “update” that DougJ posted about last night, and it’s another canary in the coal mine for anyone relying on Google services: the free ride is ending. Reader is one of many Google products that doesn’t push ads and doesn’t have a direct link to any of Google’s current obsessions (which are mainly social networking and mobile), so Google doesn’t really give a shit about what happens to it. In addition to the ugly new theme DougJ mentioned, Reader also lost all of its sharing functions, because Google saw that as a way to force more people to use Google+. If you want to learn more about that, ED Kain complains loud and long about it at his place.
In a less noticeable but arguably more important change, Google has also clamped down on use of its Maps API. Whenever you visit a web page with an embedded map (like this one), chances are overwhelming that the person who created the map used Google to do it. In the past, non-commercial use of the Maps API was essentially unlimited. Now, Google has decided that anyone hosting a map that gets more than 25,000 hits in a day has to pay a fairly steep fee. To put that in perspective, if I embedded a map in a front page post at midnight, we’d probably hit the limit sometime around mid-morning.
Google’s done something similar with its Google Apps product, which allows businesses and organizations to host email and other Google services under their own domain. In other words, Apps lets you have a [email protected] email address while using gmail. That product launched with a 500 user limit, which was reduced to 50, and is now 10.
In all of these cases, Google has engaged in classic predatory behavior. They drop a free product in a market where a number of small, entrepreneurial solutions are operating. This free product is either better (Reader), or better and cheaper (Maps and Apps). Google keeps the low or free price long enough to drive the competition out of business. Then, they either monetize (Maps and Apps) or bastardize (Reader) the Google product.
Unless the Google product you’re using shows you ads, runs on a mobile phone, or is somehow competing with Facebook, prepare to either pay or be disappointed. That’s just how they roll now that they’ve become the new boss.