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It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way, Google (Reader)

Yesterday, Google released the overhaul of its feedreader, Reader, which features increased integration with Google’s relatively new answer to Facebook, Google+. If you like auto-spamming your Facebook or Google+ timeline with links to articles minus context or, in general, do not think of the internet as a space in which to share information in a thoughtful and meaningful way, stop reading now. If you are tired of another company’s sorry attempt at imitating Facebook in the absence of a proper platform and especially don’t want it interfering with great features that work for you and your community of friends, colleagues and readers, keep going. Even better, if you work at Google or know someone who does*, there are a few suggestions below that I would like implemented to make the internet a happy and safe place for information sharing once again.

I use Reader to:

– quickly access and read the latest blog posts and online magazine articles from feeds that I have bookmarked in the reader,

– organize these feeds into the folders of Geology, Geophysics, New Orleans, Science, Science Blogs, Technology and Visualization; share links to individual folders (bundles) with interested parties;

– share specific blog posts or articles either on Shared Items or by publishing them to this blog inside the Recommended Reading sidebar widget (simple list of hyperlinked titles of shared items) ALL IN ONE CLICK and

– share and DISCUSS items inside Reader with a specific group of WILLING followers who can passively join my Followers list and I theirs.


– access is really slow with increased load times; furthermore, the feed refreshes and displays the latest set of posts while you’re still reading previous ones,

– folders are still there and users can still create and share bundles,

– you +1 (instead of share) a post which then goes to a +1 page on your Google+ profile (complete with a Buzz tab that we are warned will be going away in a few weeks). Note that you not only have to create a non-pseudonymous Google+ profile in order to share Reader items, but also have to point your friends, colleagues and readers to the location of the +1 page, and

– once you’ve publicly +1ed the Reader item of interest, you have the option (which works on a PC desktop, works for crap on a PC laptop and not at all on an iPad) to create a post on Google+ to let your Circles know that you, Google+ user, have shared yet another article which is going to take up more of their screen real estate than is really warranted.

This, i.e. what used to be feedreader + Twitter + del.icio.us + publishable outside of Google space + all self-contained in terms of size and community,

has become this for archival:

along with this for sharing and discussion:

Instead of going from my blog to the article, the pathway has now become my blog –> my Google+ +1 list –> the article or my blog –> my Google+ stream –> the article. Archival? That’s right out the window.

Because all we need are more gates and gatekeepers between us and the information.

The Official Google Reader Blog explains these changes: “Integrating with Google+ also helps us streamline Reader overall. So starting today we’ll be turning off friending, following, shared items and comments in favor of similar Google+ functionality.”

I don’t understand why Google has to cancel one set of features in favor of another, unless it is to force users into Google+. Some argue that the social integration with G+ is something that they look forward to, which is great, but why not host a +1 button for G+ users as well as a Share button for those who do not want to utilize Google products socially?

Which brings us to the fundamental difference between the two: signal to noise. As I said on a G+ post this morning to which not a soul responded (probably because it drowned in the sea of re-re-re-re-re-shares of Rick Perry’s “drunk” speech – QED):

Along with the tremendous amount of white space, the signal-to-noise ratio of content is already very low at Google+ which is why I also don’t hang out at Facebook much other than to comment on other folks’ posts (when I find them in the noise there) or to make short throwaway posts myself. Now, folks sharing their Reader items here without context makes it even more noisy and unreadable.

Congratulations, Google, you have succeeded in sacrificing internet meaning – content in context – for more internet clutter in a silly attempt to reproduce Facebook, and in the process really pissed off a bunch of scientists, bloggers and internet users who, until yesterday, happily utilized Reader as a staple of simple, one-click, high signal-to-noise sharing and discussion. You just can’t have this in Plus.

Garrett Guillotte sums up for me:

Even if every Reader feature made it to Plus — and shit no they haven’t, and it doesn’t look like they will — the entire concept, culture and process is completely different. You can’t remotely replicate the closed, tight, context- and content-first communities of Reader in Plus. You can’t efficiently or effectively share, excerpt, annotate or discuss a 3,500-word longform news article on Plus alone without opening at least two other tabs.

Some suggestions for Google:

1) Please help us publish our +1s outside of Google+ via a “shared feed.” All you have to do is build a “Share This On Your Blog” embed utility into the +1 page.

2) Please replace the “Note In Reader” bookmarklet with a +1 bookmarklet. What if I want to +1 an article published on a website that doesn’t use +1 buttons? And, no, they’re all not going to add the +1 button to their websites/pages, just like they didn’t “Facebook This” or “Tweet This.” Give it up.

3) Can we go back to refreshing feeds as we did two days ago? I would really appreciate the page not cutting to all white and then repopulating itself with new material, all while I am in the middle of reading something.

4) Please don’t let this become your version of what Yahoo! did to GeoCities.

Functionality over mediocrity. Tremendous usefulness over killing useful features. These should be internet mantras. Ultimately, there is just no need for another Facebook, which is itself far from perfect (and, in fact, on the quest to completely confuse the hell out of its users). But, a utility that can be Facebook, feedreader, Twitter and Pinboard/delicious to many and in the doses that they want? Now THERE is a gamechanger.

Who do you want to be, Google? Figure that out first.

* The guy who engineered the Google+ Circles model and I went to the same high school years apart. And what am I going to say? “Hey, fix this or I’ll stuff you in your locker.” We were a bunch of nerds who would have all been stuffed in lockers in a normal high school and we didn’t even lock our lockers.



Brian Shih | Reader redesign: Terrible decision, or worst decision? “The closest analogue might be if Twitter made it so that 3rd party clients could use the Retweet functionality to push Retweets to a user’s stream — but only allowed you to consume Retweets on twitter.com.”

4 comments… add one
  • Blair November 1, 2011, 9:31 PM

    You are REALLY ready for that vacation/honeymoon!

  • Jasperfields November 3, 2011, 10:02 AM

    I am a completely avid user of Google Reader and have been using it since its inception. I was glad when Google seemingly did not intend to “upgrade” its functionality. I am so dismayed for the very reasons you noted. Well put!!!

  • Kea Giles November 3, 2011, 1:13 PM

    So, now I open the article in another browser window and use StumbleUpon to “like” it. So much for the utility of Google Reader to “like” other people’s blog posts.

  • just jon November 9, 2011, 10:13 PM

    Nobody responded to the G+ post because nobody is using G+ because it is pointless.. :)

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