Why We Shouldn't Fear Google Keep
We shouldn't let Reader's demise dissuade us from a simple, useful, and innocuous note-taking app.
It should have been a celebration.
Last week, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) unveiled its latest entry in its perpetually fickle app suite: a note-taking service called Google Keep. A simple, yet attractive app with a Holo theme, Keep instantly syncs between its Web and mobile versions and represents a long overdue native note-taking app for Android users. While it might not be as feature-rich as the omnipresent note-taking mainstay Evernote -- well established on platforms like iOS (NASDAQ:AAPL), BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY), Windows Phone (NASDAQ:MSFT), as well as Windows and Mac -- Keep's integration into Google accounts is welcome for Android users looking for an easy way to cache their impromptu streams of consciousness.
Or at least, it should have been.
If you follow any journalist on Twitter, then you already know that Google unceremoniously announced it would be discontinuing its beloved but esoteric RSS feed aggregator, Google Reader. While it never caught on with the general public, reporters, lifehackers, and Mountain View zealots alike relied on Reader's ability to subscribe to a defined set of websites and generate sortable lists of articles in real-time -- or as quickly as RSS feeds were updated.
But its distinction from Twitter and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) feeds was both its success and downfall. Reader devotees preferred the "catchall" aspect, wherein every update to a site was cached and ready to be quickly hotkeyed through. However, for the hundreds of millions of Twitter and Facebook users who need only access a site's daily highlights -- either directly or from other users -- Reader wasn't a good enough excuse to learn what RSS is or how to use it. For that reason, and because the service wasn't exactly a cash cow for Google, it had to die.
Of course, the death of Google Reader comes in a long line of failed Google experiments like Buzz, Wave, and Picnik -- to name a very select few. So while the death announcement was far from unheralded, its abruptness was underscored by 1) a lack of replacement, either existing or proposed, 2) the fact that it could theoretically happen to any number of other free Google services, and 3) Google's expectation that we'd immediately flock to and adopt the new Keep service.
For many analysts, including GigaOm's Om Malik, Google Keep was the arrogant cherry atop a sundae that could be taken away mid-bite.
"It might actually be good, or even better than Evernote. But I still won't use Keep. You know why?" Malik asks. "Google Reader."
Given the years of upkeep, reliance, and devotion that Malik put into Reader prior to its pending obit, he -- and many others -- feel far too scorned to take on another Mountain View experiment that could potentially have a target on the back of its head.
But honestly, Keep is the safest app for users to dip their toes into right now. In fact, it might even make us forgive Google for Reader's mercy killing. (Almost.)
First off, Keep isn't a robust service requiring hours of acclimation. Its lightweight interface might sacrifice versatility, but there is barely any learning curve at play. For the time being, it does exactly what it needs to: save notes in text, pictorial, and audio form and sync it all across all your devices. And it does it well. Its Holo theme looks great, and for Android users, its integration into Voice Actions makes "Note to self" a powerful invoking phrase.
Secondly, Android needed a native note-taking app. iPhone has one. Windows Phone has one. Hell, BlackBerry has one. There was no reason for Android users to have to rely on third party software or save drafts in Gmail for a kludgy solution to such an easily solvable problem. Sure, Keep may take on other forms at some point or be integrated into an all-encompassing messaging app that many are predicting is in Google's future, but there's a good chance the transition would be seamless and migrate every item into the newer service. In any case, Android will likely always have a native note-taking app, so you might as well start using this one if you're looking for an Evernote alternative.
And finally, being a lightweight note-taking app, Keep isn't meant to be the robust tool that Reader was. By its very nature, its content is supposed to be ephemeral: A quick note here, a short voice recording there, Keep is meant for Post-It-sized thoughts and to-do lists that shouldn't last more than a week, let alone long term. That isn't to say some users wouldn't want to keep an archive of every note they took, but a crucial bit of info saved in perpetuity isn't meant to be Keep's chief purpose. In those rare instances, it's probably best -- or more logical -- to save it elsewhere.
With all due respect to those who were shoved onto Google's Walk of Shame, don't let Reader's demise dissuade you from checking out Google Keep. It's simple, stylish, useful, and all in all, it's pretty innocuous.
And hey, if Google decides to kill it, I'm sure Evernote will take us back.
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Disclosure: Minyanville Studios, a division of Minyanville Media, has a business relationship with BlackBerry.