When Google Reader made its recent changes, the first thought many people had was what RSS reading options were there? I think many of those people complained about the lack of the old sharing and the loss of RSS feeds for peoples shares. This means that the people who used Google Reader were not really content consumers, they were content curators.
Granted, I am making sweeping generalizations here, but the typical complaints make sense only in this view. I wrote a critique of the changes, both good and bad, when the new Reader was available. So, the typical complaints regarding the new Google Reader center on a few items:
- Original sharing was different than +1 or the new share
- There are no more RSS feeds for Google Reader shares
- You can no longer follow people and see what they are sharing
- If +1 was equivalent to a Google Reader share, it would require an RSS feed or at least an API to get the list of +1′s.
Only the third item is about consumption, but it is also heavily related to the other three items. +1 having a different meaning than a traditional Google Reader share is a minor point and can be resolved if the other items were resolved. The real question is, who cares about these items? Who cares if RSS feeds from Google Reader shares are eliminated? Who cares if you cannot follow people’s shares anymore? Why would anyone want to follow the shares of other people in an application like Google Reader?
Part of the reasoning for the Google Reader changes is that the ecosystem of shares needed to be improved. Google had integrated sharing into Google Buzz, but Buzz was not as good as people had hoped and will be shutdown soon. That means that Reader shares need to go somewhere, mainly because not everyone will use Google Reader. So, how do you get people to share posts and have it go somewhere useful? This can only be answered if you know why people use Google Reader in the first place.
Google Reader has always been a bit of a geeky tool. First, you had to know what RSS was, or at least that sites had feeds. Then you had to like reading news in the format that Reader presented, which was not for everyone. The presentation was information dense, unlike magazine or news style sites. So, that meant that the majority of news consumers had no interest in Google Reader. This geeky tool and the information density meant that it was a power tool of news and blog reading. Take a look at the 90-9-1 rule to understand how this works.
In this case, the 90% are mass consumers that will never use something like Google Reader. The 9% are the power users, reading tons of news per day and probably writing about it as well. Lastly, we have the 1% which are the curators, or sharing whores as I call them and myself. These are the people that read hundreds of posts per day and find some joy in selecting 20+ stories to share with other people. The key to this scenario is that someone needs to be the curators. People have mentioned that they read news based on their Facebook or Twitter stream. That is perfectly fine if you want to find only the most popular stories that get shared. Some people have created lists in Facebook and Twitter specifically to follow people that share good news and blog posts. That is similar to following the shares of people in Google Reader, but using a more consumer friendly tool.
So, where are the tools for the curators? I have mentioned Google Reader, and there are plenty of alternatives. However, to really support curators, those tools need to be integrated with other applications. Many of the tools allow you to push links to Twitter and Facebook, but is that what you really want to do? As an example, you can take a look at my activity history on Google Reader and Twitter. On Google Reader, I am a self-proclaimed sharing whore. I would share around 35 posts per day. I did not want to send all of that activity to Twitter because I would then flood my followers with my activity. So, there could be a few stories that I would send to Twitter. This was almost always less than 5, and recently I have not even done this.
The changes to Google Reader, or trying to use other tools, will push people towards changing their sharing behavior. Look at the sharing options in Google Reader right now. There is the +1 and there is the updated Google+ share. The +1 appears on your profile in the +1 listing, mine for example. However, the +1 activity does not appear too obviously within Google+. I believe that Google is trying to find the appropriate way to have +1 activity affect the stream that you see before just adding +1 as a post.
This brings us to the Google+ share. This share is really just a quick way to create a post on Google+, in addition to the typical +1. This can be equated to someone sharing a link on Twitter. You probably do not want to use a Google+ share for everything because then you are flooding the Google+ stream with your shares. How do we allow shares that people can see, without cluttering the display with the flood of shares? I am not saying this is simple, but this really becomes a presentation problem. If you look at the +1 listing, the display is compact prepared to a normal post on Google+. These +1s could be included in the stream without too much clutter. In addition, they could take a cue from FriendFeed and allow for filtering out +1 activity or being able to collapse a group of +1s into one entry in the stream.
The core of my concern is that curators need tools to find those stories that may not be as popular as others. Otherwise, all news comes from a few select sites that are read by the masses. Obviously, this is not what we want to have happen. I hope Google finds a way to continue to provide tools for curators, or works with some other tools to allow for easy integration with Google+.