or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Bloglines is Back(ish)

   November 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Trojan Horse replicaAfter it was announced in September that Bloglines was shutting down (although Chris knew better), I sadly and reluctantly started testing replacements. So you'd think that the recent announcement that Bloglines will continue after all would send me tearing back, right?

The answer, actually, is no - and I think there's a lesson in there for libraries.

When Ask.com announced they were ending Bloglines, that's what they said - service will be terminated. They didn't say they were looking to spin it off, or really give its users any obvious signs of hope. The deadline extensions implied they were exploring ways to continue the service, but my feeds were too important to me to sit around and hope.

After evaluating a few alternatives, I switched to Netvibes. And now that I've invested a month tweaking it and getting comfortable with it, the idea of switching again - even back to something "familiar" - is just not appealing and I'm not going to do it.

I say "familiar" after reading about the future plan for Bloglines - fewer features and more ads. To me, this indicates a shift in focus, from "user as customer" to "user as product" (meaning, "what's good for me" versus "what's good for them") - which gives me zero incentive to use it anymore*.

So, I think the moral of the story also applies to libraries:

  • If you have something successful (like a storytime, newspaper column, podcast, Sunday hours**, book group, etc.) that has to be temporarily interrupted, make sure people know they can count on it coming back
  • Don't be gone too long, because in the meantime people will find alternatives and might not be there when you're ready to welcome them back (communicating reminders and updates is a good idea)
  • Don't open up room for doubt - say what's going to happen, and then do it. If anything changes, let people know (again, communication is key). Once trust is lost it's tough to recover, and it's far easier to keep supporters than it is to win them back
  • And when you do come back, make sure you're still offering what it is that people liked in the first place, and not just something that suits you better

My gosh, why is this all sounding so bitter? I'm really not, I promise. I just think this is a good cautionary tale on how easy it is to lose support - and support is everything to libraries.


*Incidentally, this is, as I see it, exactly the business model Facebook uses (and exactly why I don't use Facebook). All the ways Facebook's users' privacy is violated can be traced back to it - the more information about you they sell to advertisers, the more money they make. Facebook's customers are its advertisers, and Facebook users are the product.

**Sunday hours might be a bad example - we could be open only even-numbered Sundays in odd-numbered years when the temperature is greater than the square root of 1764, and we'd still be busy.

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