A More Serious Look At Google Reader

Google Reader has been getting a lot of attention lately. This attention is due to the newer social features that the team has been adding. Given that my attempt at humor failed as usual and did not really explain what I was thinking. So, I decided I should write a more serious post about what Google Reader needs to improve. My goal is not to ask Google Reader to become FriendFeed, but more to use the features they have in better ways.

Group and Contact Management

I like the idea that new Reader followers need to be in a group to comment on your shares. That gives the user a level of control on what can happen. However, the management of groups and contacts leaves a lot to be desired. First, Google Contacts needs some cleanup to really handle groups better. If I add a follower in Google Reader, that contact should have some flag denoting the source of the addition, even if it is from GMail itself. This allows people to understand where a contact came from without having to scroll through their entire list of contacts.

The contact and group settings in Google Reader need to be more obvious. The settings are somewhat buried, and generally hard to find. Why not just add a tab to the Google Reader settings? The contact management tab in the Reader settings could be a miniature version of Google Contacts that only lists Google Reader followers, with the required “invite your friends to Google Reader” link.

Lastly, if we have to put people into groups, those groups should be included in the user interface. So, in the “People you follow” section, why not have the groups look like folders instead of just dumping a user list. This is more of a selfish request as I am an organizer of data. I would like to put people into related groups, not just a “reader shares” group.


The comment feature is quickly gaining acceptance in my group of followers. However, they are not really part of the feed items. The comment view is a good idea when you just want to go back to the comments for some feed items, but there should be more integration with my general feed reading.

A small addition to Reader could be comment notifications. I would like to get an email when someone comments on one of my shares or a comment stream that I am involved in. This is one feature from FriendFeed I would love to get.


Notes are another feature that I see being used more often. The big problem with notes is that they are not integrated into everything that I do. I am also not sure what the general purpose of the note feature is. I understand the “share with note” feature, as it is a nice way to initiate comments on a share. However, the standalone notes are like an outsider. They appear similar to a share just without an RSS item. I am thinking that notes either need to be a first class user interface item that always appears (making Reader more of a microblogging application), or removed in favor of only “sharing with notes”. I do not think there can be an “in between” for that type of feature.


I have been hoping for a proper API for Google Reader, and now that there are likes, comments and followers it is entirely needed. Take the example of Twitter and build a solid API that allows people to search for feeds, items, people and anything else that is stored. Given that you are Google, people would likely flock to the API and build some really cool applications. I also have my own selfish reasons for a good API 🙂

Overall, I think this is a fairly reasonable list of requests, without trying to make Google Reader turn into FriendFeed or Twitter. Are there simple improvements that you would like to see?

If the Google Reader team reads this, feel free to contact me via email (info AT regulargeek DOT com). I would gladly have a chat if there is any confusion on what I have suggested. Otherwise, feel free to comment.

5 thoughts on “A More Serious Look At Google Reader

  1. There is one other issue with Google Reader. While all of the features are nice (and I’m experimenting with comments more), many of the new features, and even some of the older ones, are inaccessible from older mobile phones. For example, I use a first generation Motorola Q which has older versions of Windows Mobile and Internet Explorer, and while I am able to Share, I am unable to Share With Note. There’s no logical reason for the “Share With Note” feature to be unavailable in the mobile environment, and this really hampers my use of Google Reader (in my case, to feed items into FriendFeed). A share is often useless if you are unable to put the share into context, but in the mobile environment there’s no easy way to do that.


  2. John

    Mobile is an interesting perspective, but I think we really need to be patient on that side. Granted, you would hope that the mobile interface is updated in the same timeframes as the web UI.


  3. Excellent points, especially concerning contact management. Some method of granular sharing would be a brilliant feature, but I doubt that is on the near horizon, if at all.

    I’d also add saved searches, or search filters to the list. Part of the reason behind following feeds is persistent interest in specific topics; such a feature would go far in enabling users to find relevant blog posts. FeedDemon (which integrates with Google Reader) has this feature, but it would be nice to have it built-in, since Gmail has that capability.


  4. Thaddaeus

    Excellent point regarding searching and filtering. I would add blog discovery in the same grouping. The searching and filtering are fairly basic and fit with the Google style. Discovery is always difficult though.


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