Review: Google Reader

The Google Reader team just launched a major new version of their feed reader. The summary is that it’s quite sweet and you should take it for a test drive around your feed-reading block. And yes, there is a hidden Easter Egg in this post. :)

I’ve mentioned the idea of the Google Lifestyle, where most of your data is safely stored online and accessible through any browser, you can throw almost anything into a search box to get helpful info back, and Google provides a useful service for much of your online information (search, mail, calendar, reading RSS/feeds, etc.). But there are at least 3-4 products where I’ve preferred a non-Google alternative or haven’t used a Google product. Sometimes it’s because the Google product isn’t really intended for people like me. Sometimes it’s because I just don’t like something about the product. Sometimes it’s because I’m a control freak. :)

I rarely wave a big flag and say “I don’t use Google’s version of X,” but I’m also honest. So I was doing an online interview with Philipp in 2005 and got the question “In 5 words or less, what are your thoughts on … Google Reader?” I said “For now, I prefer Bloglines.” You need to understand that for a company as polite and consensus-driven as Google, that was a pretty negative public comment. I’ve been a huge Bloglines fan since I found it. In my opinion, the first version of Google Reader was a better match for regular users who didn’t know or care about what RSS or Atom meant. I’m a real power user, and the first version of Google Reader didn’t resonate with me.

But after using the new release of Google Reader, I’m ready to switch. It’s that good. My hunch is that I’ll use Google Reader for a week to a month, and if everything works well, I’ll switch to Google Reader completely.

What is so different in the new version? Well, check out the previous version of Google Reader:

Previous version of Google Reader

The first thing you’ll notice is that items from different feeds all flow into one view. There was no easy way to view just JenSense or the Spamhuntress. The other thing that bothered me was that the old version used a lot of screen-space where Bloglines is pretty compact. Check out this view of Bloglines:

Bloglines view

Bloglines showed a lot more items in a smaller space, which I liked. There were a few other things I didn’t like in the original Google Reader and I never switched.

Fast-forward a few months. A few weeks ago, I started playing with the pre-release version of Reader and I really liked what I saw. The biggest change is that I could control which feeds to read, so I could browse Blackhat SEO feeds when I wanted to. :) The usage of space was also much better, as you can see in this picture:

Reader's expanded view

The new version also has an ultra-compact list view that reminds me of Gmail. It looks like this:

Reader's list view

So I did a pretty in-depth evaluation for my needs. Here’s what I found:

- Dupes. This was a clear win for Reader in my book. Go read this rant from Barry Schwartz. Oh, all right, I’ll quote a bit of it:

I absolutely hate the Search Engine Watch (main site) RSS feed. It is the most annoying feed on my RSS feeds list. It updates several times a day on Bloglines, even when the main site only has one new article per day. …

There have been feeds that I have unsubscribed from in the past because of this.

I couldn’t agree more, Barry. Google Reader doesn’t have this issue.

As far as I can tell, if you change even a single character in a post, Bloglines will say that the post is brand-new. It’s not! I just changed one word! The SEW articles feed has this issue. And if you subscribe to a Google News feed (say, for the search “Matt Cutts”), Bloglines keeps showing the same articles as new. (Yes, I’ve tried to get the Google News team to bend over backwards so that Bloglines won’t show items in the Google News alert feed as new. No joy on that side.).

In some sense, it’s a policy decision. With Bloglines you’ll know that if an item changes in any way, you’ll find out. With Google Reader, once you’ve read an item, it stays read. :) Given the number of people who think it’s cute to include a current timestamp or a random fortune cookie blurb in their feed items, I prefer the latter choice. Right now, Bloglines is telling me that I have 84 unread items and Reader says 41. I’d rather read 41 new items than 41 new items and 43 things I’ve already seen.

- Latency. If a serious Google bug is mentioned in the blogosphere, I want to find out about that *now*, not in a few hours. Reader’s latency to find new items in a feed is at least as good as Bloglines right now, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Reader gets even faster at finding new items in the future.

- Lock-in is a wash. Both products let you export your feeds as an OPML file. Both can import from an OPML file. A folder in Bloglines’ OPML is preserved when you import it into Reader.

Ready for the Easter Egg? If you study the pictures above, you can reconstruct many of the feeds I check regularly. Or at least the ones that happened to have new items when I was grabbing screenshots. :)

Google Reader isn’t perfect. I want OPML import to preserve the order in the OPML file (Reader sorts feeds alphabetically instead). I’d like to see the favicons for each feed (Bloglines used to do this badly, but does much better now). I want keyboard shortcuts that are as intuitive as Gmail. But for feedreading, the dupe issue alone is enough to get me to switch now, and I’ll trust in the Google Reader team to improve the product even more over time.

Okay, I had a mini-rant about how if you don’t keep an eye on the blogosphere, you (or your company) is missing out on vital information, but I also promised myself I’d stop writing at 10 a.m. :) The bottom line is that I think you should give Google Reader a try now; I think you’ll like it.

Update: reviews are trickling in from Niall Kennedy, Scoble, Nathan (who finds another nice easter egg and wants Reader to work in Opera), Philipp, and Read/WriteWeb. In my mind, this version of Google Reader feels like a stake in the ground, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Reader team continue pushing to make Reader better and better.

54 Responses to Review: Google Reader (Leave a comment)

  1. VERY nice (interface and extra functions too)! Btw some of the users (including me) are experiencing problems: Loading message stays on forever (in all browsers) for new interface. Dunno what happened, it worked about 10 hours ago. In IE it says that there’s a syntax error at line 1180, char 91. Maybe you can pass the message to the team?

  2. b

    Dupes. Bloglines is a better solution. If you don’t want posts reappearing just because a word is changed then set it to not reappear when you subscribe a la “Updated Items” set to “Ignore”. At least with Bloglines I have the choice.

  3. Max

    Regarding dupes, I agree that Bloglines’ handling of the issue can be annoying, particularly in the case of those Google News feeds, but I do want to know if somebody has updated a blog post, even if that update is only a sentence or two. Will Google Reader show me those updates, or will they be ignored as “dupes?”

  4. I will give it a try Matt! I consider myself as a big RSS consumer as well. For the moment I mainly rely on Firefox and Netvibes to aggregate RSS feeds. But in both cases I am limited by the number of the feeds added (Netvibes: it needs to fit in one page / Firefox: the RSS feeds added creates a never ending list (too LARGE). Let’s see if Google can respond to my needs.

  5. Matt, do you happen to know how often Google Reader updates the feeds? I couldn’t find it anywhere.

  6. Now if only Google will allow us to use our own CSS to change the format just a bit.

  7. Teodor Filimon, I’ll pass that feedback on. Max, I’ve talked to folks on the team about this. My guess is that they’re open to looking for updates in a smart way. But for now, I much prefer the “things stay read” policy, given the evernew nature of some feeds. :)

    Ryan, I do know but I don’t think the Reader team has talked about it, so I’ll err on the side of safety. Suffice it to say that it’s on par or better with most feedreaders. I saw the latency go way down even from the pre-release version I used. Gary, I’ll pass that feedback on too.

  8. Colin Fetter

    I agree, the new reader looked great… while it lasted.

    All I get now the “Loading…” graphic and I’ve been forced to revert back to the old version via preferences. I posted the issue in the newsgroup along with a number of other people but haven’t seen a response. :(

  9. Good writeup. I’ll give the new reader a look. On the Easter Egg subject, I was very interested in Jen’s Sep 28th post on the perceived problem of hijacking publisher codes. Considering one would have to have “hacker level” access to the web server this is really much ado about nothing …. or in my very ‘Boob level of understanding, it is a significant issue?

    On the same subject line, there’s a plug-in or two out there that appear to try to ‘pay for themselves’ by changing a certain percentage of the time to the author’s publisher code and then back to the site owner’s pub code. I’ve avoided any tinkering with these not only because of a potential TOS problem, but how do I know the “percentage” code is really right? Your thoughts?

  10. Max

    Thanks for the response. I think it would be useful to look for smart way to do updates, since many blogs update individual posts regularly. A good example of this might be when Engadget is “liveblogging” Steve Jobs unveiling a new iPod… I want to be able to read those updates in my feed reader.

  11. Does Google Reader show an updated post if there is more than one word updated?

    Let’s say I add a postscript to an entry and it is important, will Google Reader show that as an update?

    I like and hate that Bloglines shows me updates. Google News RSS in Bloglines… ahhhhhhhh

  12. Guess the blackhat feeds were kept collapsed by design, eh? C’mon, open ‘em up. ;)

    Coincidentally, that’s a question I’ve always meant to ask you and that you’ve gone a long way toward answering, which is: “what is the stuff you use as sources of information, inspiration, or other?” So thanks for that, even though I never did ask it.

    The trouble that this leads to two other questions: you mentioned how the Reader could export to an OPML file and then import from it as well. But…

    1) Is this data exportable selectively? For example, could you export say your Geek blog list or your Search blog list?

    2) Can the OPML be automatically generated and accessible as an RSS feed is, so that those who wish to create a reader can simultaneously access your blog content as you would?

    In other words, the whole “red berries” logic…Matt adds new feed to his Google Reader, OPML file is automatically generated/updated, and all the other little monkeys who know about Matt’s OPML file and wish to read the same things he does can do the same thing.

  13. Regarding the duplicates in Bloglines, you can tell BL to not show you updated items. When viewing a single feed hit edit subscription and in the pop-up menu look for “Updated Items”. It can be Display As New or Ignore. Works like a champ as long as the feed is correctly produced (doesn’t change GUID).

  14. Good job indeed. Google could replace the old version of Google Reader everywhere. I like the change with google talk too. Now anyone can register.. better :)

  15. Hmmm… I’m with Multi-Worded Adam. Are there ANY chances of seeing those Blackhat links? Let’s see, you don’t have greyhat, so:

    Graywolf
    DaveN

    Any others? They are interesting as it is…

  16. Sage Reader extension for Firefox. :)

    Can you trade RSS feed lists in Google Reader Matt? I would love to take a look in that blackhat folder and study the places you monitor. ;)

  17. Colin Fetter, it’s working fine for me.

    Jon Gales, thanks for mentioning that. I never saw where to edit per-feed preferences before. I tried edit, then clicking on a feed in edit mode, right-clicking, etc. It’s nice that the option is available. b/Max/Barry, Reader doesn’t show if a post changes after the fact right now. I lean much more the other way lately, but I know the Reader team will read these comments and get the feedback.

    Dave Starr, I asked the AdSense team about the “show different pubids” issue that Jen and Nathan have discussed.

    geniosity, certainly those names are on my personal blackhat list. I’ll save the rest for another day. ;)

    Multi-Worded Adam, I like that idea. You could hack up something to pull down your OPML and syndicate it, I’m sure, but sharing OPML (or parts of an OPML file) isn’t incredibly easy for most services at this point.

  18. Michael Schaap

    I’m also a current Bloglines user, and am impressed with the new version of Google Reader, but there’s one thing that’s stopping me from switching: the mobile version. Bloglines’ version is pretty much perfect for me, but Google’s version is still severely lacking.
    The main two problems, IMHO:
    1) Still can’t read a single blog in Google Reader mobile
    2) Links in Google Reader mobile (for instance to the full article) aren’t Google Mobile-ized. (Bloglines mobile Sqweezers them, since recently.)

    – Michael

  19. mob

    Because reader apparently ignores the “pubDate” in the feeds, it’s easy to see how often it updates. About half of my feeds are hourly updates, and the rest are 4 hours. It doesn’t seem to be based on frequency of posts as I checked a few http://www.x.c and x.c feeds, which obviously have the same # of items, with both 1 hour and 4 hour updates. It would be nice if they get those 4 hour feeds on par too.

    I would also like the see the actual times of the posts (for items older than today) rather than just the date, perhaps only in the expanded item box.

    There’s a few things that’s stopping me from switching from Bloglines, but it’s certainly a huge step compared to the old version.

  20. There are definitally some interface limitations I see.

    #1 is I see no way to mark a msg unread while scrolling down the unread items.

    #2 The side menu needs “Read Items” & “Unread Items” links. All they have is “All Items”

    Both of these where possible in the old system (which I used). Why they are not availible in the new one I do not know.

  21. I noticed that one of my feeds updated exactly every hour so I would believe that the update frequency is 1-hour. :) Guess I answered my own question. It would be cool to see it a little more customizable like most desktop feed readers are.

  22. Thanks for the post. It convinced my to try GR. It is very nice but I’m back with Bloglines because clicking a blog links opens in a new window but always the same window. With Google Reader I soon had ten windows open.

  23. I tried it by loading all 166 feeds from my OPML list and they were successfully imported. The interface looked beautiful. Fast forward a couple of days later and now all I get is “Loading…” for what is now over 15 mins. That’s friggin unacceptable.

    My own free RSS offering – MonkeyChow from http://www.monkeychow.org – is not as pretty but certainly fast. After week of vacation I came back and had thousands of articles to wade through, but the interface was as fast as a normal day of feed grazing. If you have access to a PHP/MySQL server, give it a spin. I’ll have to work on the UI since I really did fall in love with the new Google Reader colors. For now, I think the Google Reader team has some work to do.

  24. Dave Starr, using “revenue sharing” is perfectly within the AdSense tos. However, only the webmaster of the site doing it really knows if they are truly splitting it as they say they will. I couldn’t see AdSense granting access to other people’s accounts just to verify that yes, you each got 250 impressions on a 50/50 rev share.

    As for the hacking issue, it is happening either on the server itself or because they have a script installed that they didn’t keep updated with the latest version. phpBB is an example of a very common script where the publisher can insert their AdSense javascript into the phpBB admin panel using one of the ad mods. So while the hacker might not have “server level” access, they can still change the publisher ID just by hacking into the phpBB admin panel.

  25. I had stayed with Google Reader, but as much out of laziness as anything else. Bloglines is nice, just never quite “hooked” me.

    I have to say, I’m REALLY REALLY glad to see the Reader update. One thing that was frustrating me was trying to tag – err, label – feeds. The interface was terrible. I’ll have to see if they’ve improved that as well – I certainly hope so!

  26. I dont use any reader but I tried this google reader and its not bad atall may be will try others and see the difference :) .

  27. Mike Empuria, I assume you use Firefox? There’s a better solution for the “open in new windows instead of new tabs” issue:
    http://kb.mozillazine.org/Suppress_new_windows

    That’s what I do. You can still right-click on a link and select “Open Link in New Window”, but I end up just opening everything in tabs. One of my favorite Firefox settings. :)

  28. For what it’s worth, I still use Google Homepage as a “kind of” feedreader (ok – it’s more a feed summary). I place all the rss feeds I am interested in on the homepage, and then can just scan the titles for interesting feeds.

    It usually takes just as long to click on the article link and read it on the original page, as it would to read it in Google Reader.

    Being able to automatically include all the Google Reader Feeds you are subscribed to on the Google Homepage so you can quickly scan article titles would be neat.

  29. Teodor and Colin,

    We’ve recently made a fix for this “stuck on Loading…” problem that some users were seeing. Please give Reader another try and see if this is still an issue for you.

    Mihai Parparita
    Google Reader Engineer

  30. hi, I would like to make short email interview with you; is there a chance to contact me by email so that I can send you my questions?

  31. Bloglines lets you decide if you want to see modified posts as ‘new’ or not. And it lets you do this per feed.

    I tried Google Reader and it’s way better than Version 1.0 I used it for a day. It’s just as good as Bloglines now. Not better. So I still haven’t switched :D

  32. Ok Matt, you convinced me to give it another go – I’d previously tried it and dumped it. I’m only one day in, but I still like Bloglines a bit better, I think. Although I like the starring feature in GR to collect posts to be further reviewed all in one place. Hmm, I’ll keep it going a bit longer but I also like the favicons and I think Bloglines still looks a bit more compact.

    I also found a little bug where two of the windows on the right were overlayed – I uploaded a screen print to blackstump.com.au/images/overlay.gif – I edited out my email address, but the rest is what I saw.

    cheers
    Blacky

  33. Neat little tool, it’s not that easy to find a good RSS feed reader. Most of the have tons of bugs/errors. I’ll give it a shot.

    - Roman
    http://www.marketingcard.com

  34. I’m looking at Google reader for the first time. I like the function of being able to search for feeds by using a keyword, however, Im not sure where the results are coming from?

    Do you know if the results are based on US sites/locations only?

    Would be great if you could specify which country to search for feeds.

    Sorry if its there already, I just can’t see it.

  35. Sorry for double post but…

    Its true that if you use something you are happy with, it’s unlikely that you are going to change to something that doesn’t do as good a job.

    I use WizzRSS feeder in Firefox (shame there is no IE for this) so to be honest, I wouldn’t change to Google reader.

    If Google could come up with something similar to this, where it was something that you could just log into, rather than having to add the feeds to every PC you use, then I would consider changing.

    Just testing out Google Reader – I got quite frustrated as I kept getting a little red bar at the top of my screen saying “Oops…an error occurred. Please try again in a few seconds.”

    Unfortunately, this is a put off for me – however, on the good side, I did manage to import feeds from elsewhere without a glitch, but I won’t be changing over to Google reader this time.

  36. There are some many great things comming out of Google Labs, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Keep these blogs coming, they are very informative.

  37. Matt, you need more travel sites on your reader ;)

    I get alot of questions about what is RSS and a RSS feed, and when I explain, I always tell them to use the Google reader, because for someone who isn’t technical and wants to use a reader, I find that Google’s is the easiest.

    I love the sound of the new features, which I will check out – just don’t make it too difficult for non techies to use! :)

  38. Tom

    Matt, what’s in your Blackhat list? Can you give us the URLs?

  39. You inspired me to give Google Reader a try. But after 3 days I have to go back to Bloglines. Google Reader is to slow and some other little problems where to much, but I like the list view. Maybe I give Google Reader after the next big update another try.

  40. Huge update and I’m close to moving from Newgator’s free version, just because it’s faster. Not sure how long that’ll last but we’ll see.

    Something that I can’t find (but it must be there) is how to order a feed’s items from oldest to newest. There’s a view settings on All Items which allows a user to toogle between a Sort by Newest and a Auto Sort but nothing for a single feed.

  41. Overall, I like Google Reader, except when I scroll down in expanded view, sometimes a whole bunch of posts get auto marked as read before I even get to them.

  42. Well I have to be honest, the first Google Reader version was terrific, nothing useful, but this one I really really like it, Bloglines never convinced me (I think it has a very noisy GUI) and I have been waiting for this for a long time.

    Regards
    Fabio

  43. Em

    I have the same problem as Teodor Filimon, Colin Fetter, Dan Burke, and Ernie Oporto. Even though Mihai Parparita said that this problem has been fixed, I still encountered the problem. Can someone please do something about this?

    On the meantime, I was able to surf through a temporary solution. If in case you have the same problem and couldn’t access google reader, go to https://google.com/reader/ instead of http://www.google.com/reader/. According to the forums, placing an “s” after http supposedly makes the site more secure.

    Thanks in advance. :)

  44. Have you guys seen the latest google shoes and ties collection? They arent all that buy still as they were google shoe I bought myself a pair and to be honest Walking and running has become so effortless you just wont believe me,just got and get yourself a new pair of google shoes to see for yourself.

    Hey this google reader is alright and will have to say better then the rest by a huge margin :)

    Saving up for a new google tie now :) And waiting for the launch of those new google toilet rolls, condoms and birth control pills.

    Forgot to tell you guys about the google shampoo and razers, well they are a class apart.

    Dont know what I am talking about? lol you must be a webmaster ha ha ha

  45. Call me crazy, but I actually prefer the old Google Reader version to the new.

    Vastly.

    Like — I’ve reverted 3 times total now.

    background: computer user since 1980, online 1988, internet 1992, CS degree 1997… blog 2004… I’m used to this stuff. Still don’t like the new version.

  46. Marc

    Google Reader Newb here –

    Imported my OPML from Sage quite easily. Google Reader is working fine for me.
    Now I’m trying to make Google Reader as easy to access as Sage is within Firefox.
    I have Permatab and Faviconize add-ons working to pull-up Google Reader immediately when I open Firefox, however, I need help getting it to ‘auto-login,’ so to speak – any ideas?

  47. n!MA

    freezes on the loading page :(( any idea?

    firefox 2 – Ubuntu 6.10:

    Error console of firefox:

    Error: syntax error
    Source File: http://www.google.com/reader/ui/2529173860-scroll.js
    Line: 280
    Source Code:

  48. Now I’m trying to make Google Reader as easy to access as Sage is within Firefox.
    I have Permatab and Faviconize add-ons working to pull-up Google Reader immediately

  49. I really like Google Reader except for one thing:

    I gotta log on to a webpage after firing up IE 7.0. And the problem is, my IE 7.0 keeps on spitting up messages like: Security Certificate Revoked… blah blah blah.

    Gods! When did google ever lose its security cert? Or is this M$ trying to dick around with Google?

    I’d really think christmas came early if Google Reader came as a download integrated onto the desktop like the Google Desktop package.

  50. Max Persuasion,

    I know exactly what your issue is! I’ve ran into this before… Oh wait, it’s coming to me… Ah there it is: You’re using IE7!!!!! ;-)

    Anyway, Google Reader is very nifty. I like being able to save news searches which you can refer to later.

  51. Overall, I like Google Reader, except when I scroll down in expanded view,

  52. I’m Bloglines user, and am impressed with this version of Google Reader.

  53. There’s a middle ground here between showing updated material and not.

    I agree that the Bloglines method was excessively attentive.

    However, from what I can understand, the Google Reader method has a pretty serious weakness by not displaying *any* updated item.

    My situation is that I want to roll an article forward in time on WordPress. This is all well and good everywhere but Google Reader, where the GUID ensures the year old article, no matter how extensively revised, and republished with a later date, stays buried and out of view from readers who would benefit from updated information.

    I admit: there is a good chance I am missing something in a very big way.

    What I’ll be doing is copying the existing article forward into a new article, revise it, save it as a “new” article, publish it, then change it’s permalink to the same as the original article, which I will delete.

    I’ll probably find a way to implement “swap” temporarily in redirects until everything gets changes over.

    But I would prefer to find out that I’m missing something, even something really obvious. Don’t mind a “learning experience,” not at all.

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