Save Google Reader!

This is a plea to save Google Reader. First, you need to understand my use of the product because it’ll give you an indication of why I love it.

Note: As a few users have pointed out, Google Reader isn’t dying, it’s getting a makeover and being integrated into Plus.  Fair enough, but my Google Reader is going away (well, mine and Sarah Perez’). The point of this post is to encourage Google to preserve the existing, pre-integration, codebase…in some form.

I am an information hoarder. I set up custom feeds, custom searches, follow blogs I’ll never read, and follow my own bookmarks from all across the web. I’ve used Google Reader to do all this since 2006, maybe even as far back as ‘05 when it was released.

As far as I know, there’s no other product on the market that offers the following:

1. Speed 

No doubt the engineers at Google know their stuff.  They built this thing to respond insanely fast to user actions and also for retrieving content.  

Having used Feedly for all of a day, it’s an awesome product, but incredibly slow for my tastes. At least noticeably slow, which is too slow in web app years.  It’s not their fault, I’m sure they aren’t throwing the kind of hardware at this type of problem that Google does.

2. Infinite Archival 

Google Reader, for me, was like building my own archive of the web. Sure, only content that could be collected via an RSS or Atom feed was there, but indexing feeds from my favorite bookmarking services and then using their feeds was a quick way around this problem.  

There was seemingly no limit to what I could collect and store in Reader. Okay, I’m not sure if it’s actually infinite but Reader archived content for a LONG time.  A random search I conducted just now returned results from as far back as 2008.  

As a personal archival tool this was invaluable as I could now time-shift researching any given topic.  For instance, I could follow several blogs about a given topic, and sometime in the future (sometimes even years later) I could just enter a few keywords relevant to whatever I want to write about and retrieve recent as well as historic results.  I found this to be an invaluable information discovery methodology.

I believe the ability to ‘star’ content preserved would allowed users to preserve information even further back than this.

3. Narrow Search 

In the above scenario I was creating my own little personal index of my interests or anything that I was even remotely interested (per chance I’d be interested later). Google made this even more powerful by allowing me to search across ‘my web index’, my likes, my starred content, or my shared content. Again, a powerful way to streamline the retrieval of information. 

4. Sort by ‘Magic’ 

This little known feature of Google Reader was a way to ‘sift through the noise’ to find influential content from a feed, a folder (which could contain many feeds) or across your entire personal index. It has some sort of time decay built into the algorithm which meant that the freshest content always took priority despite the popularity of articles from, say, last week.  This was really useful to compare clusters of blogs to see which articles were popular in a given week.  When Google bought PostRank earlier this year, it was likely to augment this technology so that it could be used to improve GooglePlus.

5. Trends


Some people look at this and are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of content left unread.  For me, this is a locker for all the content I’ve scraped from the web and stored for later.  Trends was a useful way to check out the size of this growing index and for checking out my own reading habits.

6. The Last Living Wordcloud

The notorious wordcloud has been called the ‘mullet’ of the internet.  Still, it makes me think of 2006, and as you may be able to tell from this post, I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

7. Scraping Twitter Information

Another cool function: the ability to aggregate, store and search vertical feeds from Twitter across multiple hashtags or user accounts.  Even after Twitter killed off RSS feeds (asking developers to use their API for tweet retrieval) this was still possible.

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I realize Facebook is eating the internet at an incredible rate, but the answer is not more centralizing of our content consuming lives – at least not for me.  Also, Google Reader is a workhorse for journalists and news producers.  I know they called you a vampire to their industry, but they didn’t mean it. I take it back for them.

Google, if you’re listening, please consider the following:

1. Open source it. Much like you’ve done with the Jaiku and Wave code. If you aren’t going to keep reader around, don’t take it out to pasture just yet, open source it.  But when I say open source it, I mean open source it more like you did Etherpad versus the others.

2. Sell it. If Yahoo can sell Delicious, you can sell Google Reader.  Who’d buy it? I dunno, I’ll run a Kickstarter or something and give it a go. 😉

3. Keep it around in Google Apps. I will pay you to keep my personal archive of ‘stuff’around, just give me an option to do so, and keep the API around.

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If anyone out there knows of any alternatives that offer the above features (not just simply feed reading), I’d love to hear about them. NetNewsWire was the closest feedreader to come to this sort of utility but it all but bit the bullet in 2009. Also, it was a desktop app which was never convenient. Greplin is also pretty cool, but lacks on the reader aspects.  

Precious vs. Expendable Bits

This tweet by @timbray sums up why I don’t think either Google Plus or Facebook pose any real threat to Twitter. The two can wrestle with each other all they want, but Twitter stands alone because of a singular feature: we can waste our tweets.

There’s something about the strict conformity to conciseness that allows users to 1) overshare, 2) devote entire Twitter accounts to be vertically functional as opposed to generally informative, and 3) jump in an out of the content stream without caring what we’ve missed.  

That means Tweets are the opposite of precious.  It’s like using a machine gun. You can spray the field with your content and almost rest easy knowing something will hit where it needs to hit, when it needs to hit.  Those bullets (or bits) are expendable. Whereas Plus and fB are more like a hand gun.  If you’re going to aim at something, you’re trying to hit it with as few bullets as possible before you have to reload.

If the New York Times can use Twitter as database, tweets aren’t precious. If people can create Twitter accounts solely devoted to code commits that amass 100+ followers, tweets aren’t precious. If 71% of tweets receive zero reaction from a community of 200 million users, tweets aren’t precious.

The Precious Differences

  • On Facebook and Plus if I overshare information that adds no value, my friend and family get pissed off or people stop following me. On Twitter, people just stop paying attention because ‘noise’ isn’t as obtrusive. When it does become obtrusive people, then people will unfollow.
  • The character limit of Twitter allows me to scan a lot of content quickly. On Facebook and Plus if I see a big block of text that’s well formatted with a lot of comments, I feel inclined to actually read and engage.
  • Because I’m aware of the above, before I post to Facebook and Plus, I try to think of how I want to use the precious bits of attention people are lending me on those platforms.  Maybe I’m unique, but I feel more inclined to be a bit more respectful of people’s time.
  • One could argue that Facebook’s news feed allows for an excess of noise because they give you the filters to tune it all out.  However, I don’t post my short messages to Facebook and aggregate them with Twitter.  I post to Twitter and aggregate across multiple social networks, Facebook included. Twitter is my vehicle of choice for pushing shortform thoughts.  
  • If you give me a box that has no limit, I feel like there’s an expectation to fill as much of that space as possible.  Twitter gets rid of that expectation.  

Google Plustags vs. Hashtags

I consider myself served.  Last week I wrote a post about Google’s unwillingness (or inability) to leverage it’s own existing infrastructure to finally get social right.  A few days later GooglePlus drops and the web implodes because we finally have the Facebook alternative we all dreamed of (Do GooglePlus Huddles dream of Diaspora Sheep?).

+1 for the home team. Still there are a few things that don’t make sense to me:

  • Buzz conversations are relegated to a useless backchannel.
  • +1 is integrated across a lot of Google properties but ‘like’ isn’t and the two have yet to be integrated.
  • I don’t like Sparks.  It seems to just aggregate based on keywords (much like GoogleNews). I’d prefer they incorporate Google Reader and RSS somehow.

That said, I love GoolgePlus so far. Here’s one feature that I’d like to see extended.  Right now on the social network, to tag a person in a message (think @twittername or @Facebook Name) the user simply types ’+username’.  We’ll call that a plustag. 

The problem is GooglePlus is circle-centric.  And while it’s great that I can cc my friends on the fly with a ’+’, wouldn’t it be cool if I could tag messages to my circles of friends?  The syntax might look like this:

“Hey peeps! I’m on Google+! *friends *following *acquaintances.”

…where ’ * ’ represents a circle and messages tagged as such only go to the designated circles.  That would allow me to easily cross-post content from Twitter and other places and have it target the right groups on GooglePlus.  The current way to do this is through the GUI which is cumbersome. 

That’s all I’ve got, can you think of some other cool shortcuts Google should add to Plus? Better yet, tell me on GooglePlus!

Google Already had a Like Button (and other redundancy)

A few months ago Google announced they’d be rolling out +1, their answer to Facebook’s like button which powers Facebook’s ability to leverage the social graph and interests of its users. Since then, the speculations that +1 would be a flop along the lines of Wave and Buzz have been echoed around the web.

But there’s another story here. Why does Google repeatedly fail to leverage architecture it already has in place? I don’t see any reason why +1 should exist, at least not as an isolated product, because they already had several great social bookmarking buttons in play.

Google Reader’s Like

In 2009 the Google Reader team rolled out a slew of new ‘social’ features for Reader which included the ability to ‘like’ things. This was cool because it gave Reader users the ability to quickly and effortlessly give a nod to authors or content that they appreciated.

While I’m not privy to the inner workings of the architecture of ‘like’ for Google Reader, superficially it seems to do three things:

  • Liking the content’s url of origin
  • Cluster other Reader users who’ve clicked the button
  • Tie in to their ranking and recommendation algorithms for ‘What’s Hot in Google Reader’.

So immediately I thought, ‘This is brilliant! It must be part of their strategy to bring social to their search rankings’. That was two years ago.

However, the ‘like’ feature remains strangely absent from Google Reader’s API documentation. This meant that apps like Reeder, Flipboard and Pulse (that want to improve social news consumption on tablets and mobile) were never able to incorporate it. Instead they rely heavily upon Twitter’s re-tweets and Facebook ‘like’.

This seems like a huge missed opportunity.

Google does offer its ‘sharing’ function as part of its API, but its a separate button that’s not tied to ‘like’. Why? If I like something why not just give me the option to create a feed of those likes that I can send to Facebook, Twitter and other places? I don’t really want to click both buttons, that’s horribly inefficient and likely confusing for average users.

More importantly all those apps I mention above that improve engagement in Google Reader are forced to use ‘Share’ which doesn’t seem to hold the same algorithmic ranking in Reader. Frustrating.

So you would think this would be Google’s only offense. Nope.

Google Buzz’s Like

I could care less about whether Buzz was a flop or not. I actually still use it occasionally and that particular debate is irrelevant to the point of this article. The point here is that in Buzz they’ve reinvented the wheel yet again. Instead of giving me the same ‘like’, ‘star’ and ‘share’ buttons they gave me in Reader, you’ve given us a ‘like’ button that may or may not leverage the same architecture as the one in ‘Reader’ and they’ve given us the completely new ‘reshare’ button.

Reshare is obviously a pale attempt to borrow some UX elements from Twitter and Tumblr but, again, they already had a ‘share’ button that worked just fine. One that probably has higher engagement from the Reader users than ‘reshare’ has from Buzz users.

Beyond that, I’m not sure why none of this user information isn’t used as part of Google’s elusive goal of nailing social search.

You would think it would stop here. Nope.

YouTube’s Like

Now one might argue that the user base of Google Reader is a rounding error to Google, and the user base of Buzz is simply not engaged enough to matter in comparison to Google’s search users which are well into the hundred millions.

Fair enough. But with YouTube the scale is there: 490 million users and growing (rapidly). So you would imagine that Google would leverage that user base to help improve social search.

Instead, we find a different ‘like’ button (the thumbs up), a thumbs down, a different ‘favorite’ button and a completely different ‘share button’.

Picasa’s Like

In Picasa we have completely different sharing mechanisms.

In Picasa world, the ‘Share’ button goes to an email form. Why?

Meanwhile, stashed over to the right are sharing options for other social networks including Google Buzz. So I’m supposed to share this to Buzz, and that’s the equivalent of a ‘like’ right? Nope.

There’s actually a like button in Picasa, yet when I look on my Google profile, material that I’ve liked in Picasa doesn’t show up.

The Problem

As a user of YouTube, Buzz and Reader, I have to ask myself, why does Google keep giving me buttons that don’t do anything for me – the user. And therein lies the problem. Google gives us buttons to feed metrics to its engineering teams so they can dissect our behavior in nice clean market segments.

These buttons aren’t there for the sake of user experience, they’re for engineering teams whose performance is evaluated on metrics. I’m certain the data from all these different buttons is used somewhere, for something…and sure, they are presented in ways that are moderately functional. But for a company with the reach of Google, I’d argue that cohesive user experience across all products would be a huge asset for driving engagement and improving their social ranking algorithms.  

More importantly, Facebook successfully turned its own social metric gathering platform into a utility for customers. That’s the win that Google seems to be oblivious to.  Users click the fB like button because it serves them, and it serves their friends.  Its that simple. 

Google Plus One

So its 2011 and by now surely Google has observed all of this, especially after watching Facebook eat their lunch (and not pickup the tab) in social search.

One would think. (no pun intended)

Yet, Google Plus One rolls out and makes the same mistakes the old products did. More importunely, +1 is not even integrated across Google’s other social products. Why can’t I +1 a public Google Doc? or an article in Reader? or a YouTube video? or a song in Google Music? or Picasa photos? or anything in any of the places I use Google other than Search?

Or dare I ask the same question about Google’s ‘like’, ‘star’ and ‘reshare’ buttons? Why are they isolated? As a user, I want to be social with all my content, not just the content Google gives permission to be social with.

Yeah, dislike.

The Promise of Youth @ Google Zeitgeist 2011 (Europe)

60 percent of the world’s population is now aged under 30, making youth the world’s largest demographic. What impact is this having on society? In this session, young change-makers will converse with business leaders and opinion formers to share their experiences and discuss solutions to the challenges of tomorrow.

Filmed at Google Zeitgeist 2011 on May 17, 2011. Featuring:  Sam Connif  (host), Jon Gosier (Appfrica, Ushahidi), Jon Snow (Channel 4 News), Ludwick Marishane (DryBath), Sadiq Miah (Future Voices International), Orly Setton (Re.think Leadership), and Martha Lane Fox

Google Goes Gonzo

From what I’ve heard, working at Google as a programmer is all about exploring exploring your unrequited love for web applications and new ideas. It’s no surprise, then, that the Gmail team is rolling out a javascript applet that allows customers to try out these new features.

It’s the new beta test model, where the actual testing and bug reporting is essential crowd sourced, allowing those diehard, bleeding edge, early-adopter users to feel more nerdy while helping Google work out the kinks. They’ve also opened up channels for sending feed back directly to engineers. Here’s somewhat of a GLabs manifesto from Product Manager Kieth Coleman.

People often ask how we decide what to build next. It’s usually a mix of factors, like how many users are asking for it (think delete button, vacation responder, and IMAP, among others), how useful we think it will be (think chat, conversation view, etc.) or how much fun it will be to work on (this is actually really important). We have all sorts of debates about each option, we weigh the pros and cons, and then some of the time we probably make the wrong decision.

Gmail Labs is a way for us to take lots of the ideas we wouldn’t normally pick and let you all (who use Gmail) decide whether they’re good or not. When you sign in, you’ll see a new page in Settings called Labs. It has a list of experimental new features, and you can enable or disable each one. Some of the popular ones will become core parts of the product, and we’ll eventually retire the ones that don’t get much use. We’ve put feedback links in there, too, so you can discuss a feature with other users and the engineer(s) who wrote it.

Appoogle: The Megaconglomerate of Tomorrow

If you’ve paid close attention to the moves of the not-so-shadowy empire (Google) and Steve Job’s army of white (Apple) you’ll notice that the groundwork is being laid for very interesting future.

First, what’s up with Google CEO Eric Schmidt joining Apple’s board of directors? Second, AppleInsider is reporting on Apple’s inclusion of OS-level integration for geographical mapping technology as an integral part of Leopard. It was also rumored to employ GPS functionality. Of course no one is doing GPS maps on the web at the ubiquity of GoogleMaps. Apple’s recent addition of GPS tagging to iPhoto points to a GMaps URL that could be signs of direct integration.

Imagine devices that support automatic GeoTagging using GPS. Cameras that tag your photos. Aggregators that pick up on RSS feeds tailored your location. Cellphone blogging that tags a location so that you know who is is blogging from the same places you do? Could it be the end of privacy? Slashdot is running an interesting discussion about this here.

Considering both are somewhat formidable enemies of Microsoft, could this be foreshadowing for a merger? To open the door for complete speculation: What would an Appooggle Corporation look like with Google, YouTube, Pixar and Apple all under one roof?