We can get as upset with Google as we like - we're not going anywhere

Google Reader - the aftermath.

It begins harmlessly enough. You're chatting to a friend, a neighbour perhaps, over the garden fence. Suddenly there is a huge crash from inside the house. Oh my god - the BABY! You go inside and immediately fall over a large pile of books. There are books everywhere - unsurprising, you realise, as all your bookshelves have mysteriously vanished. The floor is covered, and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus along with the full EL James trilogy have migrated from behind your (unread) copy of "Wolf Hall" and are now displayed at the top of the pile.

There's a note. It says "We know your bookshelves had a devoted following who will be very sad to see them go. We're sad too. There are two simple reasons for this: usage of your bookshelves have declined, and as a company we’re pouring all of our energy into fewer products. We think that kind of focus will make for a better user experience. Love from Google."

You look around and realise (with an element of disgust at the unimaginative cliche) that your house has in fact been built on sand.

You find a pencil and start a reply to the note.

I'm OUTRAGED at the change, and will be moving out with immedi...

But hang on. Where would you go? You've got nowhere to go. For several years now you've lived in this house. The thought of moving into a thin-walled shack, to Bing, or Yahoo, insulated with the paper torn from advert posters is horrible. No - you'll just have to suck it up. Head bowed, you find a plastic bag and start tidying up the books.

And here we go again. As I wrote about last week, Google reader is being killed off, and people are unhappy about it. They will no longer be able to trust Google, they say  - which will make it harder for Google to get them to use new features, like Keep, which it brought out yesterday.

As John Hempton says:

Google is in the process of abandoning its mission. Google's stated mission is to organize all the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. RSS is a way that a small number of us organize our information. Google no longer cares. It seems what they care about is mass-markets...

According to him, this is Google's problem: it makes financial sense for Google not to have Reader. After all, Reader doesn't make money or create opportunities to make money. However, the move to abandon Reader is itself financially risky. It will affect how willing Google consumers are to adopt new features.

Here's the Economist:

The more people used Reader, the more attractive it was to have an RSS feed and to write posts in feed-friendly ways. And the more people provided RSS content and structured online interactions around the blogs that pass through RSS, the more attractive it became to be a part of that ecosystem. If you then pull away the product at the heart of that system, you end up causing significant disruption, assuming there aren't good alternatives available

The trouble is that there aren't good alternatives - not to Google as a whole. As I wrote back in Feburary, Facebook, Twitter and Google are all at various stages of the tipping point between user-orientated and profit-orientated, and every so often, users realise what is happening and get upset about it. But the reason the companies are doing this is because they can. We're probably not going anywhere.

Google Reader is closing down. Photograph: Getty Images
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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war