Why google reader is teh suxX0r, and why I use it anyways.

Finding a good solid RSS reader has been the bane of so many. Partly because if you read a lot of blogs, then you want an RSS reader to be feature rich, but mostly because you probably also want it to be free. 🙂

Before my Microsoft friends get started on, “hey, you can use Outlook 2007 for that now.”… Yes you can, and I actually like that option. However, my latest gig often has me at locations where I can’t plug my laptop in to any old network that I choose… and it kind of seems a little silly to carry my laptop everywhere just so that I can have an RSS reader with me. 😛

To be honest, I don’t use google for a lot. I have a gmail account that I never check, I used to use gtalk for some things, but I mostly prefer MSN <sigh /> Live IM and don’t really see the need for yet another IM client. I just started using google analytics… we’ll see how that goes.

To address my g-loving friends, yes, I know that google reader is in “beta” (isn’t almost everything that google does beta? It’s like the new Web 2.0 under construction sign.. just call it beta!… unless you’re Microsoft then you can call it a CTP 🙂 but I digress. Yes, I know that gReader is beta, that’s sort of the point of a post like this. Feedback. Give the gProduct teams in California a chance to fix the things that I want fixed. If you have things that you want fixed, then you can comment hear (because we all know that team google will be all over this post 😛 … or just right your own blog entry somewhere or another)… this is where I’m writing about my gripes.

Why Google Reader teh SuxX0rs.

No search. Are you kidding me! Doesn’t it say google in the corner of the page… doesn’t that mean it HAS to have search? I thought that was sort of what they did isn’t it?! I can even search my feeds with Outlook. This one feature almost had me carrying around my previously discussed laptop to be my RSS reading device.

Folders are so non-Web 2.0.  Every feed that I subscribe to in gReader has to go in to one (and only one) of my RSS folders (categories?). Does that mean that I am supposed to predetermine the category of this feed? What if it someone that I know AND someone that talks about TFS or .NET or UX?  I would much more prefer to tag each of my feeds and then be greeted with a tag cloud to show my feeds and allow me to drill in to those feeds. Better yet, if would be teh roxX0r if gReader would auto-discover the tags from the posts in my feeds and then build a tag cloud based on that. Community server does that exact thing with their ‘roller’ page. It’s awesome.

No Prioritized Feeds. I read a lot of feeds… scratch that. I subscribe to a lot of feeds. I can’t actually get to and read all of them every day. I do, however, still subscribe to them because I have found them useful in the past and I’d like to be able to read them from time to time to at least stay caught up on some people. That being said, some feeds, I would like to read as soon as they post. It would be nice if the “home” page (which is a selection from various new posts) made sure to include any of my high priority blogs that had new posts.

~ Pause for comments / Full disclosure ~ the next three issues with Google Reader are not things that I noticed or mostly even care about. I was talking to one of the guys that I work with about this post and his eyes glared over as he described his complete dislike for google reader – even though he continues to use it every day… here are some of his issues that went beyond what I was frustrated over. BTW – He’s a very pro-google sort of guy; helps with a couple of JAVA/Spring User Groups and everything.

~ continue with rant ~

Post sort order should be (globally) configurable – Apparently some people like the post displayed oldest at the top and newest at the bottom. I’ve never really given this much thought, but some people this is a HUGE issue. The problem is that while you actually CAN make this configuration change to the way that your blogs are displayed… you have to make that change for each and every blog that you subscribe to individually.  So when you import your OPML of over 250 blogs there’s no way to universally display all blogs in the preferred sort order (oldest on top).

Where are my favicons? Lot’s a sites have these special unique identifiers. It would be nice if I didn’t actually have to read the name of a blog subscription.. I should be able to tell by the unique icon that is next to the subscription list. Unfortunately all I get is a wordy link…. no icon.

More than 100 unread posts.  Whenever I have a feed with unread posts, gReader is so nice, it shows me in a set of parentheses next to the subscription how many I left to read to get caught up… there is even a set of parentheses that gets added to the page title and shows up in a  in the application bar in Windows.  When I see a rather large number of unread posts, it creates a feeling of accomplishment to see that number go down… that is, unless I happen to have over a 100 unread posts. Then I just get the very un-helpful, un-motivating (100+).  Why can’t gReader just give me the number!  At least for up to 999+ then the spacing would still be the same and wouldn’t mess up anyone carefully crafted design that apparently relies on a small number of un-read posts!

Why Google Reader Rocks.

Mobile integrations. The mobile version of the google reader site is pretty sweet. It has the features and navigation that you would expect from a well designed, made for a mobile device (or smart phone) web site. I’ve noticed that I now read about 80% of my blogs posts from my phone. Sounds crazy? It’s amazing how much you can keep up with when you’re waiting in line, sitting somewhere bored, or waiting for your desktop to do something else. The nice thing is that google reader knows that something has been read from my phone or the website. The mobile web app lets me mark entire feeds as read, star favorite posts (that I’ll probably review later from my desktop), and mark post
as unread.

Web Access.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m now often at clients or in other locations where I don’t have direct web access from my laptop (without tethering on my cell phone). There is just something really nice about being able to access my feeds from the web, mobile phone or where ever.

So I guess that’s it team google. Please add search, feed tags and feed priorities to google reader. Then I’ll love it.

To the reader: What would you like to see in an RSS reader? Post a comment here.

BTW – hey Microsoft, think about adding RSS folders to Exchange, Mobile 6 and OWA… that would be cool too.  Oh, and Mobile 6 should be able to use Voice Commander to read web pages… that would make my drives to work much nicer. Thanks. 🙂

Update: It looks like Chris Webb (Twitter hattip) just posted on a similar gReader experience.. http://www.ckwebb.com/technology/90-days-with-google-reader-back-to-newsgator-and-feeddemon/

About Caleb Jenkins

Caleb Jenkins is an international speaker, author and 6 time Microsoft MVP award recipient, he currently works for Solera as a Director of Software Development. An entertaining and informative speaker who approaches software from a fresh perspective that spans UX, agile practices and technologies for enterprise customers from across the globe. Leading UX product design teams, coaching multi-team agile transformations and architecting and mentoring at some of the largest companies in the world, As a long time community leader and former Microsoft Developer Evangelist, Caleb is well known for his engaging speaking style, depth of knowledge and creative energy. Founder and Principal Mentor of Proaction Mentors, former UX Manager and Agile Coach, Senior Architect for Six Flags Corporation, Product Architect on a Cloud Marketing Platform, Caleb has made a career out of empowering others while building products and teams that delight customers and solve business needs. You can follow him on twitter (@calebjenkins) or his blog, DevelopingUX.com and if you're still reading this, then you could also subscribe to his blog RSS feed or sign up to receive updates by email