The New Google Reader

As I always have Google Reader open in a browser tab, I had to hit F5 to get to see upgraded version. Then, my first instinct was to immediate hit CTL+Z. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been eagerly awaiting a facelift for my favourite Google application. Since the early days of Google Reader, I’ve been a loyal user and even more enthusiastic promoter of the product. What I loved most was the simplicity of the idea, the usefulness of the features, and the way it was so addicting without being bad for you. Self-education has never been so easy. 

With this long-awaited (and much despised) update, the original Google Reader has been layed to rest. As its long-time friend, I feel the obligation to give it the eulogy it deserves. And so, here is a list of things I miss most about the old Google Reader:

  • Space utilization: While Google’s design philosophy remains focused on sparsity, the newer UI, in line with the Google+ design, takes on the “ample-white-space” approach. For people without large screens, this is a cumbersome waste of screen real estate. 
  • Colours: Goog has always been a fan of white, but this gray-on-gray-on-gray is going too far. Not to mention how hard it is to distinguish on non-Apple monitor. (Oh, and the big, red, glaring “SUBSCRIBE” button? Nobody ever subscribes by manually entering the URL, anyway.)
  • Sharing abilities: The old Google Reader not only allowed me to share posts I find interesting with friends, but also create a custom RSS feed of the posts I shared. Most of all, I enjoyed commenting on posts and reading my friends’ comments on others.
  • Liking: Clicking the yellow emoticon “Like” button was strangely gratifying, almost like a re-affirmation that I really liked the article. Though I never really knew what purpose it served, it was neat to see how many other people liked a single post, too. 
  • Stats: There used to be a small drop-down window from the title bar of each feed with interesting details, like how often the feed updated or how many subscribers it had. To access this information now, I have to head to the “View Settings” drop-down. 

Mostly, I just find the layout less intuitive than the original Google Reader. Even as a regular user, it took me far longer than necessary to get used to the new layout. I’m also disappointed that a couple of key features weren’t properly addressed. For example:

  • the home page: I doubt any users actually stop on this page. It’s nothing more than a collection of snippets of subscribed feeds. There’s also side panels with a list of recently read, recently starred, and recently kept unread posts. If I had recently read an article, doesn’t Google know that I have already seen it? Why is it showing the post to me again?!
  • the recommended items: I’m sure Google Reader has a huge amount of data on my interests and reading habits. Yet it’s a mystery why it cannot seem to generate better recommendations for me. I usually just see a list of posts from feeds that I’m already subscribed to and that are probably pretty popular with the regular Google Reader crowd (ie. XKCD comics). 
  • the Reader Play: Um, what is this? All it seems to do is line up the feed horizontally, instead of vertically, and darken the rest of the screen. Probably good for images (like how tumblr has redone its photo posts), but not practical for text-heavy feeds.
  • And this last one is completely nit-picky: the Google Reader keyboard shortcuts page hasn’t been updated yet. It currently still leads me on to believe that I can type “s” to share and “l” to like. 

I’ve always believed that Google Reader was a bit of a middle child in the Google Applications family: sorely neglected but with the potential to shine if given some TLC. Oh, and the Google+ integration that was promised? I can’t even figure out how to use it yet. 

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