Yesterday, Google officially rolled out the “much anticipated” (by them, perhaps) revisions to Google Reader which removed most of its compelling functionality and added integration with their social network Google+.
We hope you’ll like the new Reader (and Google+) as much as we do, but we understand that some of you may not. Retiring Reader’s sharing features wasn’t a decision that we made lightly, but in the end, it helps us focus on fewer areas, and build an even better experience across all of Google.
I’ll start off with the glaringly obvious usability features. The first one, of course, was best expressed by an anonymous Internet comment that it “looks like a browser with the stylesheets turned off”. It’s mostly white, with a handful of navigation buttons around the top, and an excessive amount of whitespace. The navigation buttons have been rearranged and are in a row along the top, where the previous and next item buttons were previously at the bottom, and the new code doesn’t prefetch as well or scroll as smoothly. Result? It takes a lot longer to get through items. This is a big problem if you use Reader like I do. I skim the contents of about 250 feeds every day, for between 1000 and 2000 news items, but only spend time reading the most interesting ones. It’s taking me between 2-4x as long to get through my unread items as it did previously.
The worst issue, though, is that it’s removed the social functionality from Reader and forces you to use Google+ for your news item discussion. The discussion about this fact seems to center about the fact that it’s not obvious about how to share your new items, to the point where former Google Reader product manager Brian Shih trashes the new revision:
“It’s as if whoever made the update did so without ever actually using the product to, you know, read something. Reader is a product built to consume information, quickly. We designed it to be very good at that one thing. G+ is an experience built around browsing (similar to Facebook) and socializing. Taking the UI paradigm for G+ and mashing it onto Reader without any apparent regard for the underlying function is awful and it shows,” says Brian.
Google, of course, attempts to counter this argument but completely misses the mark. They released a nice blog post showing how to share an item more easily, because it’s a bit non-obvious.
The fundamental flaw, though, isn’t that it’s more challenging to share an article. The real flaw is that it’s now 100% more difficult to actually have a social discussion about the articles you’ve shared.
“Old” Google Reader had a convenient view of showing who was in your sharing circle and highlighting comments they’d made, seen in this WebProNews screenshot:
“New” Reader completely lacks any commenting functionality built in. This means you need to visit 2 different web sites to have a discussion. One web site to read and share the content, and another web site to talk about it with your friends. That’s a 100% increase in the number of steps needed to have a discussion. Trying to make reading the news more social by making it more difficult to have a conversation about the items, is extremely counter-intuitive at best. Mostly, though, it just reinforces what Brian Shih said above: that they don’t know what they’re doing.
Reader Comment threads were something I looked forward to every day. They’ve been effectively eliminated from my life at this point. Many of the people following my Reader feed specifically preferred not to sign up for Google+, and even the ones who are “users” of Google+ use it in the sense they log in once a week to see how little content there is and feel better about not using it.
I’m not surprised they’ve taken this approach to drive new traffic to Google+ – it’s been in a pretty sharp decline since it was released. They just waited too long between announcing it, and opening it to the public, combined with the fact that it makes a lot of people nervous to have one company with complete access to e-mail, web search behavior, photos and social networking all in one place. Facebook is enough of a privacy nightmare, being specifically designed to break European data protection laws (things we don’t have in the United States) but at least they can’t read my e-mail, too.
I really think this is the end of my time on Reader. Many of the people I previously talked to, just won’t be signing up for Google+ to continue using it. I have no reason to use Reader in Google+ if I don’t have anyone to talk to, and my Reader shares have always been restricted to a very close-knit, hand selected group of people. Now I’m looking for an open-source replacement we can migrate to on an open server. If anyone knows of one, let me know.
Goodbye, Google Reader. We’ll all miss you. And I don’t think Google is going to learn anything from this experience, either.
I’ve owned my Yamaha HTR-5890 stereo receiver for several years now – it’s pre-HDMI era but otherwise top of the line, and I’ve felt no reason to upgrade. It does have some usability issues that I feel are important to mention, though.
This receiver has stacks of inputs, options, customizations and optimizations. If there’s a feature, it probably has it – 7.1 surround with Presence channels, analog input and output, Dolby and DTS decoding, more jacks than I know what to do with, and automatic surround equalization and customization.
The trouble is: these features can only be accessed from the remote control. Period. Front-panel controls are sufficient to perform gross adjustment of the equalizer curves (“Treble” and “Bass” only, not the full equalizer), to set the surround processing mode (“Theatre”, “Concert Hall”, “7ch Surround”, “Direct Passive”, etc.) and to control the volume and input. Everything else, from telling it what speakers are connected to actually performing the automated calibration, must be done by the remote control.
Now, this isn’t normally an issue – except my HTR was purchased as an open-box item missing its accessories. It took $650 off the retail price…but, it’s limited it a bit. I only recently discovered the extra features like automated surround calibration, so I guess I’ll be purchasing a new remote. Modern devices aren’t much better, unfortunately – they still require accessories to use all their features.
Equipment companies should ensure that even if the accessories are lost, all the features in the device can still be accessed – a small selection pad on the front panel wouldn’t have been a difficult addition, and the receiver already has an onboard display. There’s no reason to require additional hardware to enable built-in functionality.
Google offers an interesting extension called Chrome to Phone that works with Android 2.2+ devices to remove some of the barriers between computing. A small screen isn’t the best place for planning a trip or seeing transit data from multiple lines all at once – but a desktop is. With this extension, it’s possible to look up a web page and have it pushed to your phone. I use it frequently for grabbing directions or contact information for where I’m going and send it to my phone as I’m walking out the door, so I can finish the next steps (finding when the bus comes, etc.) while on the stairs.
My complaint about the service is the way the login mechanism is handled. Chrome to Phone requires you to be logged in to your Google account using the plugin to send to your phone. Makes sense, because the extension and corresponding phone app can automatically cause things to happen on your device without any additional user feedback – press the button on your browser, and the phone automatically turns its screen on and loads the requested content.
The sign-in page, though, is an actual web page that loads in the browser. If I designed it, the login username and password box would pop out of the icon in the corner. It loads a full on tab which presents you with the option of permanently signing in by remembering your login.
Now, the real problem: even remembering your password, you still must log in every day or so. You have to click “sign in” and allow it to load the web page. Once at the page, it doesn’t ask for a password – but if it knows enough to not ask for a password, it really should know enough not to need you to click the button in the first place. Especially since I’ve been unable to locate a “sign out” button, so there’s no real point to it.