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Thu, 18 Nov 10

Google Reader And Friends

I have not used Google Reader or other such feedreaders for over two years. Scobleizer, who processes and disseminates information for a living, described a year ago his reasons for the same. Here are my pronouncements and predictions on how Google Reader and other feedreaders fare in a social world.

0) Scale

Everything that Google does is at scale, and Reader is no exception. Hundreds of thousands of feeds are pinged, refreshed, indexed and managed for millions of people several thousand times per hour. Anything you wish to subscribe to, is probably already in the system. No one else can come close.

1) Interface

5 years ago, Google Reader launched with an ambitious Javascript driven interface. Collapsible panels, pop-up dialogs, keyboard shortcuts, and much more. To me, it seemed a bit cluttered and inconsistent even then. Today it is both dated and cluttered.

2) Organization

Google has added organizational elements such as labels, folders and bundles to manage subscriptions. I must confess that I have not kept up with the nuances of these different organizational levels. I prefer some organization (to none) but also like to lean on others (e.g. twitter lists) to figure out what’s worthwhile. I can neither commend nor find fault.

3) Social

Google started sharing with a built in advantage - your Google chat and email contacts, and eventually Google Buzz followers. You can share things with them with a single click, or by adding a note. Some of my contacts do that. But many of my friends are tweeting their cool finds and writing comments on Facebook, so I don’t have much shared stuff in Google Reader.

4) Friends

You can’t make new friends through Google Reader. There is no way to resonate your likes and dislikes with a group of people. Read your feeds in psuedo-solitude and share with your existing contacts perhaps, but you cannot connect with interesting strangers by discussing news, events and information.

5) Community

Unlike Digg, Reddit or HackerNews, there is not a community of people who care about keeping the place well tended and hospitable. I spend many hours a week on Hacker News and others spend a lot more. That cuts into the time or the motivation for feed-reading.

6) Freshness

Google Reader is no longer a “News” Reader. New information shows up first through tweets. If you absolutely, positively, must know about something in real-time, Google Reader simply does not work.

7) Patterns

Professional bloggers, startup founders, leading edge marketers and many others already have a deep understanding of their domain. They care about patterns and events that alter their patterns. Numerous 3rd party tools exist to provide these insights, but they are aimed at content providers, not sophisticated readers.

8) Openness

It may come as a surprise, but Google is quite reticent about providing API to some of its core services. It may be for valid and logical reasons such as privacy policies, but Google’s data about feed subscriptions (including feedburner statistics) and article sharing is private and inaccessible for analysis.

Each of the points above is an area for innovation, refinement and competition. Twitter and Facebook and the mobile ecosystem around them may be luring users and attention, but they are also creating alternatives and possibilities. I believe this area is ready for a new approach.

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