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
HEINZ BAUMANN/GALLERY STOCK
Show Hide image

With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad