Today, the Google Reader team announced the general rollout of the new version. It is with much dismay that I see the overall changes that have occurred with this new version. I like the idea of having my Reader shares (now +1’s) appear in Google+. This was something that I wanted since Google+ was initially announced. However, all is not roses with these changes.
First, let’s look at the good parts of the change. The user interface is consistent with other Google applications. Some attention to the design details is also evident, like ensuring that hitting “j” means the next story appears at the top of the reading frame. This sounds like something small, but it means that what you are reading always appears in the same place. As has been stated before, the new design is also spacious and “clean”. It doesn’t overwhelm you with data, but there is still a lot of information available. In addition, the mobile version changed to support the same concepts immediately, so there is no confusion between the two experiences.
What did we lose? Well, Reader shares no longer go into Google Buzz, which is being shut down eventually. There are no comments on the shares, but you can comment on the +1 activity of a user. You can no longer friend or follow someone in Google Reader, but all of this is available in Google+ as well, in a much nicer package too. In all honesty, the social features of Google Reader were always a bit awkward unless you were just trying to follow someone’s shared items. From the announcement perspective, we really did not lose much except Reader being more tightly integrated into Google+.
You will notice that I said from the “announcement perspective”. What they really failed to mention is what we really lose. Following someone’s Reader shares is how many people read news from the millions of blogs that exist. I am not a marketing person, so I followed shares from people who curated marketing content. I am a software engineer, so obviously there were other topics that I do not read daily but would like news about. I no longer have that. I need to include those people in a circle to see their +1 activity. This also assumes that these people will +1 content in the same way they used to share. Louis Gray has already changed his behavior:
Now, instead of sharing 10 or so items a day to the anonymous group of people following me in Reader, I selectively share less often, and to more targeted circles in Google+ which I built by hand. And if the item is interesting to an even wider group, I share it to Public.
This is important because Louis used to share 30+ items per day. The topics ranged from tech startups and mobile tech to general marketing and business content. By changing his sharing behavior, he is no longer curating content the way people expected.
If you follow this blog, you know that I have talked about human filters and my plan for digital curation. This plan used my Google Reader shares to generate a daily post of curated stories. These posts are not possible in the current implementation either. Obviously, I could change where to read my shares from, but there is no RSS or ATOM feed for my +1 activity. I figured that would not matter given that Google+ has an API. Annoyingly enough, the Google+ API does not have a way to get a person’s +1 activity directly. The API lists all activity, but a quick inspection only lists public posts, not public +1 activity. I am assuming this will change soon, but it is still highly annoying to application developers and people using the current Google Reader shares.
I understand the need to integrate everything with Google+, but as Twitter learned, disturbing the ecosystem that you created can be a painful experience. Google needs to be prepared when doing this type of integration, and the implementation process with Google+ has been odd. Google+ has continuously added features without the corresponding API being readily available. Google has followed with an API fairly quickly, but this type of implementation is very jarring for developers especially when Google had a history of ensuring APIs existed.
I am hoping that most of my concerns will go away soon, given that a proper API will likely follow soon. Until that time, take a look at my +1 activity to see what I am sharing.
One other minor note, Google Reader needs a new shortcut key for +1’ing an item. We lost the share shortcut and it was not replaced with anything. It seems like a minor thing, but when there are shortcut keys for everything else, it really breaks my flow to use the mouse.