Google Reader Is Not About Reading News It Is About Curation

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+.

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16 thoughts on “Google Reader Is Not About Reading News It Is About Curation

  1. As an amateur curator, this bothers me and I seek a new way to curate. I”m experimenting with separate FB pages for various topics – with limited success. Pinterest has some potential also – but is still in early phases.

    However, as a consumer of curated content – this bothers me, a lot. I had developed a list of trusted people with whom I could rely on to streamline the fire-hose of the Internets into readable, relevant content. Google blew it.


    1. From the consumer perspective, there may be some more options. People like Flipboard, Xydo, Zite, and a bunch of others. I do worry about the curation side because the tool integration is critical without changing curator behavior. Hopefully, Google will listen to the people using Google Reader and make some more changes.


  2. I did not like the changes either, I had to change my habits. However, I love the integration provided by for sharing content. I read something I want to share on G Reader, got get the url,, & then decide to share it or not on G+, twitter. Works great for me as I also have widgets on my blog!


  3. So much about +1 option and Not a word about “Send To” option?

    Having in mind how many sites have only facebook like/recommend/share buttons, i think the reader has quite enough alternatives for sharing.


    1. “Send To” does obviously work, but I am talking about true built-in integration. Sending something to Twitter is an option, but that does not include the type of integration I am talking about. This is more about the different types of sharing integrations that are available and were lost. Losing an RSS feed is a big deal because you could manipulate the list of shares and potentially filter them.


  4. Rob, you’ve hit the nail on the head with this. I’ve been struggling to explain what is so useful to me about Google Reader (and the corresponding iPhone/iPad tools that let me use it OFFLINE) and “curating” really nails it. Like you, I “share” far more than I tweet because Twitter is already overloaded and doesn’t need everything dumped on it.

    I really hope you can share some more thoughts and ideas on resolving this. It looks like it is going to take Google a LONG time to resolve these issues & I’m really annoyed that they have forced out the sharing in Reader without even attempting to replace them with anything useful. This isn’t even fixable by doing some kind of mashup as Google don’t allow anyone to auto-post through the API and we can’t even get (officically anyway) a simple RSS/ATOM feed of Google+ posts! When will the likes of Google & Twitter realise that not everyone has an always-on connection but wants to be able to use these tools when mobile.

    Regards, Julian Knight (IT Consultant)


    1. I would be OK without RSS/ATOM if there was a complete API available, but currently the Google+ API has some gaps that need filling.


  5. As a ‘sharing whore’, I believe that the ability to synthesize new rss feeds on the fly was one of the greatest features of Google Reader. Why Google would gut that is beyond me — it appears to be a stoopid political decision to support Google+. The most frustrating thing? Old rss feeds created under the old Google Reader still work so I assume the functionality is still there, but Google is stubbornly refusing to allow users to access it. In the meantime, I have learned that I can create an rss feed for my ‘Google Reader Shared Items’ — now my Google+ shares — by simply adding my user profile id to as outlined in this post;

    Thanks, Rob, for your thoughtful articles on Google Reader and curation — they are the best analyses I have see so far!


    1. Todd,

      First, thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it. The problem with any of the Google+ RSS feeds is that they only grab posts, not +1 activity. Personally, that is what I am interested in because that looks like the equivalent of the old Reader shares.


  6. i was under the impression that the action to remove the ability to create rss feeds was an informed decision on the part of google. i remember reading an article somewhere for google coming in a lot of flack about their copyright infringement promoting techniques and i think their decision could be in direct consequence to that.

    in the ever evolving paradigm of the online universe some bright ideas die still others live on.. since we all know that the functionality is still alive on the back end i hope that they take the time to bring it forward again so that we all can enjoy sharing or interests..


  7. I have experimented with and due to its interface it’s really fun to work with it. It’s not really a blog replacement but rather a place where to drop and assemble loads of sources found via RSS, hashtags, etc. (thus a nice way to reduce tweets to a reasonable number and provide additional value to readers). What makes it more wothwhile than i.e. is the personal editing (‘storyfying’) involved and I personally feel that ‘human touch’ is a must these days. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!


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