Written by Internet, Technology

Google Reader

I’ve been shut away at the Radio Festival for the last few days (more about that soon), and since I was largely using a tablet computer there, I hadn’t yet properly used the new “improved” Google Reader until today.
I’m late to the party, although it seems that basically nobody who actually uses Google Reader, likes the changes Google has made to it.
I’m going to leave alone the style issues. On the one hand, it desperately needed a makeover to keep it contemporary. But on the other hand, it did just work.
I could posts that I wanted to keep track of, and importantly, I could share posts that I thought others might be interested in. Was it a perfect social system? No. But it worked.
Google is heavily investing in Google+ and you wonder if the subscription levels are where they might be, because it seems that they’re moving heaven and earth to get more people to sign up.
Google seemed to be falling out of love with Reader when it relegated it into the dropdown from its position in their new(ish) navigation bar that’s consistant(ish) across all their products. It first disappeared briefly before we were told it was moved in error, but latterly it’s dropped away in place of “Sites” – a button I’ve only rarely used. You might imagine that Google could either build a bespoke navigation bar based on individual usage of its products, or allow users to choose which applications appear on the list themselves.
As it happens, that was the least of our problems. They’ve now made the social aspects of Google Reader essentially useless. If I want to share something on Google Reader now, I have to “+1” it. And while I can limit the number of people of who see it, but sharing just to the people I want to share it with, the experience is awful.
First of all, the “+1” pop-up is still a bit buggy, and at least one item I shared had the pop-up disappear below the bottom of the browser window. I couldn’t see the options for who I could share with at all as they disappeared off the foot of the screen.
Secondly, I can essentially share with everyone, or a selection of people that I choose. Now while the functionality of Google+ that allows me to share with sets of circles that I’ve defined is useful in many contexts, this is one case that it isn’t. If someone follows me on Google+ who I don’t know (and there seem to be an awful lot of people in precisely that boat), then I can’t easily put them into any circle at all. So I don’t. They go nowhere. But that means that I’ve no way of discovering whether these people are following me because of the unique range of media/technology/literary/cycling links that I share.
Of course I could share everything with everybody, but that means that others might find themselves drowning under a torrent of my shared links. I need a place in Google+ – if that’s where it must be – that I can go to find the shared links.
And that takes me to the third major problem. At the moment, I only actively follow a relatively limited number of people on Google+. And frankly relatively few of them are active posters. But as more people use the service, and post more to it, then the stream becomes really unmanageable. Previously, if I was away from a PC for a few days and came back and wanted to see what my friends had shared in my absence, that was easy to manage. I’d click through their links and move on. Now I have to scroll through everything that’s happening in my stream(s) to see if there’s something “essential” that I’ve missed.
It’s a mess.
And that’s after just a couple of hours’ usage. That’s before we get into the dull look, the lack of “Note in Google Reader” Javascript buttons that allows me to share anything I find on the web, and the general rubbishness of Recommended for you.
I hate to be the person who doesn’t like change. Gmail’s changed this week, and – so far – I’ve no real problems with the new interface. But in this instance, Google has really damaged – fatally? – a truly fantastic product.
As someone who works in the Android eco-system, the cross platform usage of Google Reader on a PC, tablet or mobile was a boon. But now, I’m wondering if I was rash to give up Bloglines all those years ago.
Is there something else out there that will meet my needs?