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Reaction To Google Reader

Whew! I was afraid that I was going to get bashed when I didn’t like the Google Reader, that there had to be something wrong with me that I didn’t like it. Turns out, I’m not the only one. Obviously, its not a huge cross section, but the comments on my post feature only one person who liked it (sorry, Nicholas).

So, I think it is time to examine what could possibly be wrong with the Google Reader.

First off, it isn’t Bloglines. Its biggest failing could be that it performs like no other RSS reader I’ve ever used. Newcomers to RSS may fall in love with it, but the early adopters don’t appear to be big fans.

Dave Winer says “appears not to have been touched by human beings before it was introduced to the world” and that it “is a huge step backward from what was available in 1999″. I’m inclined to agree.

Google Reader doesn’t follow the very popular River-Of-News style, where article after article can be read in a scrolling list, allowing you to fly quickly through massive amounts of news.

Google Reader doesn’t follow the Outlook-style view of email that many are used to, where your news comes in and you can view an overview at a glance, then choose what to read now.

Google Reader doesn’t follow the MyYahoo style, in which your news is presented in a static view with all of your feeds presented with a limited amount of content.

Google Reader blazes its own path, which might not be the best idea. Brad Hill says “Overall, then, this launch bookmarks an interface style while hinting at intriguing future directions. It cannot be taken seriously as a usable tool right now, but that could change quickly”.

I think I’m finally getting that hang of this thing, but it shouldn’t be so difficult. In normal use, you have your articles (not your feeds) listed on the left, and you scroll up and down with the “j” and “k” keys on your keyboard to read. The interface is so cumbersome, no other method works. Had Google not gone all AJAX-overboard, we would have had a convenient scroll bar, but no luck here.

Results are ranked by relevance or date. It remains to be seen if either is useful, but for the moment, I don’t want a list of articles that I have to slowly pause through to read. Its bad enough that I have well over a hundred feeds in Bloglines, and if I had to click on each one I’d go crazy. Now, if I had to click on each article? Bring on the Zoloft!

In Bloglines, I can read all my articles at once. Or, I can read all the articles in a folder. Or I can read all the articles in a feed. Or I can search my feeds for information on a topic. In Google, I can read all the articles, one by one. Or I can click on a feed to read all of its articles, one by one. Or I can click on a “label” (which is another name for tags, lets be honest) and read the articles in that, one by one.

I can’t picture myself ever using this full time. Maybe new users will use it, but only becuase they won’t be as dissapointed as I am. I don’t want this to take off, lest it become the dominant form factor.

Now, its time to go quote-heavy:

Om Malik:

The big issue is finding relevant and intelligent blog posts on a specific topic, that are based on authority. The authority is not an arbitrary decision of a human community, but a “collective effort.” Google tries to do this in its new Reader by restricting “google search” to RSS feeds. But that’s not the answer.

Its actually an awful search, if you look at it. The feed search alone should have stopped Google from shipping this.

Chris Sherman:

Google Reader is “the most comprehensive feed finder available,” said Jason Shellen, the Google product manager who spearheaded the development of the program. Comprehensive, yes, but Reader also adheres to Google’s trademark simple, easy-to-use design philosophy. “We’re trying to find an easier find and subscribe model for feeds,” said Shellen.

I was surprised to hear that Shellen was behind the Reader, especially since, despite never speaking to the man, I’ve always been a fan of his (probably due to reading his blog). I can say this: Clearly, a lot of technical expertise went into the Reader. No one can deny that. They didn’t copy any other readers, that’s for certain. I just don’t like it from a usability perspective. I think the Reader could have benefited from some old-fashioned focus grouping.

Chris also says:

Google just announced the Reader at the Web 2.0 conference, so I haven’t had a chance to play around with it yet. I did get a demo of the program last August when I visited Google, and was impressed with what I saw at the time—particularly with the auto-discovery feature that recommended feed content based on what you read. Findory offers a similar service for feeds.

Another issue: Who got to see this ahead of time? Next time you are going to release a product so complex, you might want to make sure there are bloggers out there who have been shown how the product works, and given enough embargo time to explain to their readers what to do. I know I wouldn’t have been quite as negative on the Reader if it didn’t take me over a day to get it to work.

Google embargoes product releases all the time. I would assume someone got this under embargo, but if they did, they certainly didn’t help the rest of the blogosphere understand the product. You’d have a better reaction if Search Engine Watch had a “Guide to Using the Google Reader”, and if at least some number of bloggers weren’t overwhelmed by the learning curve. I’m still overwhelmed (and thus, underwhelmed).

Randy Charles Morin:

I then tried to import a small OPML file. It hung reporting “Your subscriptions are being imported…” After awhile, I got bored as it was completely non-functional. I exited the browser, got back in and upload the big OPML file. Same results. I can’t seem to get past first base. Definately BETA.

OPML import takes so long. How about a progress meter?

Threadwatch:

Like many, I’ve become so used to the perpetual Google Beta that i’ve started to forgive them a few rough edges when they launch something new. This new rss reader they just launched though, is totally taking the piss. I can’t do ANYTHING on it, not a damn thing. All the links seem to go to the same page, nothing works except the tour and it’s just wasted 10mins of my TIME.

Holy fucking shit bollocks and poo.

I mean, sure, release something that has a couple of wrinkles to iron out, but at least make sure it has basic functionality!

Adam Lasnik does a good job of running down a lot of the problems.

Gary Price has some good impressions and questions:

Given that Google is a “search company?”, I’m surprised that you’re not able to only search content from your selected feeds. Bloglines does offer this feature.

Since it’s all about sharing, what about being able to easily share individual posts with non-Gmail users?

Let’s see, I can have feeds in my Google Sidebar, on my Google Personalized home page, and now in my Google Reader. How about a way to unify my subscriptions and also what I’ve seen/read with all three tools.

How about spell check when searching for new content. A typo for “search engine rondtable” offers no suggested spellings/corrections.

More documentation via the FAQ. (Thanks to those who helped me access it. Some did say it was difficult to find.)

Postscript: Very cool, I must say. You can listen to podcasts/MP3 material directly from the Google Reader.

October 8th, 2005 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Reader, Controversy, Blogs, General | 12 comments



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12 Comments »

  1. Nice overview. With Yahoo!’s recently released paper on RSS statistics, I wouldn’t be so critical of Google just yet. They stealthily released a beta version of a product that touches just 4% of the internet market. 1. I think it will get better and 2. I’m not so sure it’s a big hit for Google if it falls off the face of the Earth, though people might try to make it one.

    Again, nice thoughts…

    Comment by Nathan Lanier | October 9, 2005

  2. Thanks for the summary! For those that do like it, they might want to put a badge/chicklet on their site. I’ve done a few variations up - http://chrisnolan.ca/archive/ID/658

    Comment by Chris Nolan.ca | October 9, 2005

  3. Ðå êöèÿ í Google Reader

    Í áëîãå InsideGoogle ïðèâåäåí ïðåêð ñíûé îáçîð ìíåíèé î ñâåæåâûïóùåííîì Google Reader. Íå ìîãó óäåðæ òüñÿ, ÷òîáû íå ïðîöèòèðîâ òü Äýéâ Âèíåð : This is …

    Trackback by SEO Áëîã - áëîã î ïîèñêîâûõ ñèñòåì õ | October 9, 2005

  4. ZDNET - Google rolls out a newsreader

    <p><a href="http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=1992" rel="bookmark" title="Permanent Link: Google RSS Reader rolls out"> Google RSS Reader rolls out by ZDNet’s Dan Farber — At the Web 2.0 conference Google took th…

    Trackback by DJYSRV | October 9, 2005

  5. “Its biggest failing could be that it performs like no other RSS reader I’ve ever used. Newcomers to RSS may fall in love with it, but the early adopters don’t appear to be big fans.”

    I think that’s the reason I like it. I’ve tried but never used any other feed readers because I just didn’t like them. Reader was the first one that attracted me. BTW, I read this article on it. :)

    Comment by Nicholas | October 9, 2005

  6. Just as a data-point, I HATE I HATE I HATE the “River of News.” I always read “by Feed.” My feeds cover a very wide range of topics, and some of them I don’t care to/ have time to read every day. The absolute worst sin of Reader (AFAIC) is that it doesn’t allow me to group my Feeds by my internal ranking system of importance (which largely depends on my mood), and to zoom in on the Feeds I want to read.

    Terrible product launch. As my 2nd grade teacher used to say, “Needs Improvement.”

    Comment by Brock | October 9, 2005

  7. Brock: Agreed. The River of News never worked for me, but I like how Bloglines gives you the option of viewing a full river, a category river, or a feed river (which is what you do, I presume). The only thing I’d copy from Reader is the ability to tag feeds, so I could maximize my category river options.

    Comment by Nathan Weinberg | October 9, 2005

  8. I agree. The river of news is worthless without some smarts that rank posts based on what’s most important to you. So if you had such technology, then it would probably cut your reading time in half on average. Well, SearchFox RSS has proven to deliver on both statements. We rank posts based on a dynamic profile of your interests and our beta users are reporting reading time cut in half.
    Give it a try and let me know. I will grant a beta account to all of you that email me at support at searchfox dot com and mention reference code xb17.
    You can check a mutimeida demo here:
    http://www.searchfox.com/demo/rss_final_4.html

    Comment by Esteban Kozak | October 9, 2005

  9. Google Announces Feedreader

    Google has opened their FeedReader to the public and comments are coming in. I tried it out and it is very nice, but I am not leaving Bloglines just yet, mostly for one simple feature, being able to group feeds

    Trackback by Oliver Thylmann's Blog | October 10, 2005

  10. Maybe the UI is aimed at newbie users? Either way I think they’ll tire of it quickly. It’s not working for me visually or functionally.

    And it really is too beta: feed finding & parsing isn’t perfect yet. It found the atom feed within my blog home page, but not the FeedBurner RSS feed. I subscribed to my atom feed, but Google Reader then told me there were no items to display. Weird.

    Comment by laurence timms | October 10, 2005

  11. More links

    More links: Last week I read lots of good articles, and I kept them open on my desktop in hopes of having my own brilliant flash of insight on each. No dice. ;-) Still, I want to vote for some…

    Trackback by JD on MX | October 10, 2005

  12. […] A recent post we and others (here, here, here and here) made about Sphere - a new blog search engine based on initiation by Om Malik is an interesting example. Om, an A-List blogger now has a new post on yahoo blog search engine and how Sphere is better. Some readers would have noticed del.icio.us count at the bottom in our previous post. What was 3 then is now 47! Moreover it is (was) widely discussed on the blogosphere. […]

    Pingback by EBB: ebiquity blog at UMBC (mobile and pervasive computing, semantic web, intelligent agents) » Uncloaking on Web 2.0 | October 11, 2005

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