By now you have heard that Google Reader has added a “private conversations” feature. As with most things Google, people have been praising the new feature. First, a few details from the official announcement:

  • Comments can only be seen by friends of the person who originally shared the item.
  • Comments are not yet available in the “All items” view.
  • We have much more planned for this feature, but we would love to hear what you think, too.
  • Currently, you cannot comment on items in a shared items subscription or on a shared tag; comments can only be made on items shared by friends.
  • This release is English-only for now.

The idea of private conversations is interesting, as it is a slightly different option compared to most social sites. Most sites do not have “subscription” requirements before commenting. It is social, but due to the way that Reader works, it is definitely more of a private conversation anyway. ReadWriteWeb brings up a good point as well:

As of now, the comments you make in Google Reader remain in Google’s silo and won’t be syndicated back to the original blog. It is not clear if Google will give developers access to these comments so that they can create plugins that aggregate these Google Reader comments and display them on the original post or on an aggregation service like FriendFeed.

So, Google Reader is taking full advantage of the social infrastructure, RSS in this case, and putting a private conversation around it. They have not opened the comments up to an API or any other data transfer mechanism either. Louis Gray mentions a similar issue that many bloggers had with Shyftr. Shyftr was doing the same thing with full RSS feeds, and you just needed to join Shyftr to view and comment on a story.

Google Reader has taken this a step further, and that is not a good thing. They are taking a blogger’s RSS feed and wrapping “private conversations” around it. This essentially eliminates any traffic the blogger would get from the RSS feed. By not providing a way to get at the comments, Google has told us that it is ok for them to take our feeds, but we can not have the conversation happening around the posts. Now, do not get me wrong, I am a big fan of services like FriendFeed or Digg where the link and maybe a short description are posted and comments follow. To understand what is being talked about, people need to visit the site to read the post. Reader sharing with a note was a nice feature to get people to notice a share or get the reasoning for a person’s share.

By hosting the conversation and the full RSS feed, Google Reader is just trying to hijack the conversation. That crosses the line of supporting the conversation. So bloggers, where is the outrage? More importantly, where is Allen Stern’s opinion on this, because I know he must have one.

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