Google Reader Hijacking The Conversation

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.

13 thoughts on “Google Reader Hijacking The Conversation

  1. Speaking as mostly a commenter with only rare posts of my own – you never really owned comments about your article anyway – the more private/personal conversations just happened in email or IM πŸ˜‰ ie the person writing the comment has control over who they send it to (but can’t stop it being forwarded on or mentioned in casual conversation).

    The ability to make public comments as well as private ones would be great however & does currently feel like it’s missing.

    I understand that some conversation will drop off the blogs into this system, but I expect most of the time people will be _wanting_ everyone else to hear what they have to say πŸ˜‰

    It’s all about what you make freely available to everyone & what is sent to specific groups & this is very convenient (perhaps a little to much so)


  2. Imma,

    I never said that I (or bloggers) owned the comments, but we do own the content. I am also OK with the conversations happening on different sites like FriendFeed and Digg. My concern here is that Reader allows you to have a conversation based on the contents of the RSS feed. I am ok with the concept of a private conversation, and email or im seem to fill that void nicely.

    It is about what we make freely available, but here it seems like Google is taking advantage of that fact.


  3. Robdiana,

    The advantage here, over email and im, is the convenience – a, rather simplistic, messaging service built into the reader.

    The advantage of having conversations on a blog is that it creates a centralised place for the public conversation to be held, so I agree on the fragmentation of what would be discussed there being a negative thing.

    But I’m drifting away from my point now, which is that this was all already possible – the worry is what happens when it becomes more common and I personally believe it(or similar features elsewhere) will cause a separation into two types of conversations around blog items – a casual chat with a friend is less likely to be relevant to readers generally & this may lead to a more focused type of conversation on blogs. I just wish I was more certain that is a strictly good thing & that it was more cross-platform.


  4. Imma,

    I am generally OK with the fragmentation as long as the comments are addressable. This goes into your cross-platform idea. If they open the comments up a bit, then I would probably be ok with yet another place for comments.


  5. I’ve heard other people complain that it’s going to prevent people from clicking through to the source blog. But most blogging platforms allow you to choose how much content is included in your feed. If direct views are important to you, just change your settings so people have to click through to read the whole article — problem solved.

    Google does some evil things, but I don’t believe this is one of them.


  6. I’m also mostly a commenter and keeping track of the conversation is an issue I’ve been experimenting with over the past couple of months (Disqus/coComment/Backtype etc…) It’s issues like this that have created the opening for apps with features like Backtype Connect and Disqus’s integration of FF comments. For me, the panacea is to see the different conversations going on everywhere, grouped by source obviously, so one can join in on the most active or stimulating. Google are really late to the game in many ways wrt managing the conversation. The potential they have with the number of users on GReader is tremendous, but their poor attention to this is tearfully frustrating. Thus most of the conversation occurs elsewhere.

    One of the issues I have with Friendfeed is that a link could be posted hundreds of times with hundreds of different conversations that you are unlikely to be exposed to unless you use filters, search and keywords effectively. This duplicity fractures the conversation. Google are just fracturing the conversation further. Hence why applications such as Disqus and Backtype are focusing on bringing the pieces back together. I don’t think this will get resolved any time soon, but we will find ways to bring most of the comments into a central location. Until then we can only keep voicing our opinion and feeding back to these guys. Who knows, maybe Facebook will stomp up and make it all work!..LOL.


  7. Lindsey,

    Providing a full feed for your readers is a really nice convenience. The idea has generally been that the RSS readers are providing a way to read the feed. Now, the person reading may have very little reason to go to the blog. It is very disappointing.


  8. nEtVolution,

    First, I never mentioned this before, but the ground rules of this blog state that you cannot mention CoComment or BackType as they somewhat compete with YackTrack πŸ™‚

    In all seriousness, the fragmentation is not a huge deal depending on how it is done. You make a joke about Facebook, but they have the numbers to take over almost anything.

    Also, if you just tuned into this blog, YackTrack is a conversation and chatter tracker. There is a URL search to find the conversations about a blog post, and a keyword search to find mentions on various social services like Twitter, FriendFeed, and various blogs.


  9. Thanks for the heads up! Although I think it a little extreme and overly protectionist to ask there be no mention made of the competition..:). But obviously I’ll respect the ground rules. I’ll have to take a look at YackTrack now…;)

    When I was talking about facebook, I was actually being half serious. However their size also limits their ability to move quickly. Although this recent facelift will certainly open things up a bit and drum up the usual uproar over change.

    I’m still a big fan of the comments getting pulled back to a single source. Obviously the original blog seems like the most logical point for this to occur. I think it is beginning to get a little frustrating for commenters with all the competing comment management services. I must have seen the option to log in via four different systems today, depending on the choice of the Blog owner. At some point this has to centralize. I believe that is where OpenID and the various “connect” services from Google & FB will eventually help as they mature.


  10. nEtVolution,

    Just to make sure I wasn’t misunderstood, I was totally joking about BackType and CoComment. Competition is a good thing, and we all have different strengths.


  11. ROFL! What a tool! Since it was my first visit, you had me totally sucked in! I took the happy face as though you were just softening the reprimand. I was kind of thinking wow, this is a first! Anyway, needed a good laugh today.


  12. nEtVolution,

    I have not publicized YackTrack a lot as I want one more big release before really marketing it. Regarding the “reprimand”, sarcasm does not work well in the printed word, and I use sarcasm constantly. So, I am used to explaining myself. No worries here.


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