Why I Love and How I Use Google Reader

Imagine if when Google announced the new Gmail UI, they also said

"Many of Gmail’s social features will soon be available via Google+, so in a week’s time we’ll be retiring things like replying, forwarding and filters inside of Gmail.”

Now read this.

UPDATE: massive list of links moved to sharebro.org/links

My thoughts (which I reserve the right to update at will):

Without “Comment View” Google Reader is just an ugly way to read blogs. I want to read *articles* not entire blog feeds. Which articles? Those selected for me by my friends. Which friends? Those I discovered through their Reader comments.

Here’s how we use Reader: mostly we open Comment View and read only the articles Noted or Commented by our friends. Then we read our own feeds of blogs, and if we find something we like, we share it. We share it because *we want to know what our friends think* about it. In fact those comments are usually the most important thing, so we open Comment View the next time we use Reader.

All that is going bye-bye. Or unless I see a mockup or preview or usability flowchart to the contrary, I must assume so.

Reader is my second inbox. GMail is my first. All the rest (Twitter, Facebook, Plus) are mere streams; raging torrents into which I occasionally dip a toe.

When I post something on my Tumblr blog — usually a quote or a short comment — I’m pretty sure nobody will see it. When I then *share* that post on Reader, I’m doing so because I *know* a few dozen of my actual friends *will actually read it*, because it’s important to me and I’ve chosen to *Share* it, not just post it.

The genesis of Plus was an attempt to clone Facebook mixed with an overreaction to the privacy sh-tstorm of Buzz, which in turn was an attempt to clone Twitter. They have no idea how people use Reader — it’s a curated feed *producer* and *aggregator* and reader, with built in comment threads and friend discovery — so I expect they have no idea how to migrate features to a totally different product with different goals and users. 

Does Plus emit RSS per user? Does it emit an aggregate RSS feed of a given circle? 

What about my “Awesome” list, containing the blogs *and friends’ feeds* I know I must read, as opposed to the hundreds of others I subscribe to for when I have time?

What about Shift-S to share? If I have to click on “Send To”, then wait for a menu, then scan it for a “Plus” icon, then click that, then whoops, now I have to select some circles… well, then I probably just won’t.

Plus, G+ Circles are pointing in the wrong direction for a social feed mediator. I publish to *topics*, not to *people*. Who has time to curate a list of lists of hundreds of subscribers? And why not let them decide? That’s one reason why Twitter’s Follow model works — you have a public face, whom anyone can subscribe to, and optionally a private face, where you have to approve.

I would also add that Reader has at least partially solved the Annotation Problem that has bedeviled the Web since at least 1996. Many startups have been sacrificed upon that altar.

And in response to my several friends who have suggested “just move to another RSS reader,” let me sadly point out that there is no alternative. Reader’s raw feature set is just not available elsewhere, but more importantly, the ecosystem of identity and users provided by Google is something only a Yahoo or a Facebook could provide. And they haven’t. And it’s not just me that would have to move — it’s going to be a diaspora.

A non-sharebro friend asks: 

Aren’t there other social reading apps?  Why try to save Reader?  Why
not just use some other social reading app?

Because Reader has (a) the single signon of your Google ID, (b) the trust that Google has built that it’s a safe place to put your data, and (c) a community that has built customs and lore over many years. (b) is particularly galling since this move betrays that trust.

And btw every one of my sharebros is looking for “just some other social reading app” and there is none, at least none that work anywhere close.


Update: I just thought of the term “Stepford Wifing” (instead of “maim” or “neuter” or “castrate” or “eviscerate” or “zombify” or “plussize” or “clicky clicky”) to describe what they’re doing to Reader — but they’re all pretty apt.

UPDATE: even better new name for the new neutered reader: Google Nooter

Look here, Google, we’re not against people using G+. Some of us already do. But we want integration through the back end, not a forced relocation. All you need to do to fix Google Reader is:

  • make it prettier (duh)
  • rename “People You Follow” to “Shares” and move it down with the other subscriptions, but on the top of the list
  • make a “G+ Integration” setting or button that turns a Reader shared item into a G+ post
  • sync the comments back and forth between cross-shared G+ and Reader items
  • allow people to subscribe to friends’ G+ feeds inside reader as RSS, just like we already can with Twitter feeds

That last especially would enable Reader to become a gateway to G+, allowing people to switch over at their own pace.



Reader’s social features were awkwardly implemented and poorly advertised and never given room to breathe. Imagine if Google had done what Twitter did and promoted celebrity sharers, and made it clear in the UI exactly how “you, too, can be a sharer.”

Instead they moved sharing into a separate place in the UI, and called it something weird (“People You Follow” and “Comment View” instead of just “Shares”) and then failed to integrate it with Plus… although they did get Buzz integration working ultimately, but again didn’t promote it, so even a Reader power user like me didn’t know how it worked until just now: https://plus.google.com/107397735779828096052/posts/5M2xjLwo5qp

Yet another entry in the Disturbing Internet Trend of treating users as consumers instead of creative peers.