Google Reader – Beautiful, Needs Work

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Product: Google Reader
Launched: October 7, 2005

Google launched a web-based ajax RSS reader yesterday at Web2.0. The coverage saturated Memeorandum.

Unlike Bloglines, which uses frames to avoid page refreshes, Google Reader uses Ajax. The reader is visually stunning and at first glance appeared to be a contender. However, upon further review we’ve found what we consider to be some serious structural flaws.

The reader loads quickly and uses your stored gmail credentials to sign you in. Adding feeds is fairly easy via opml upload (which we did) or using the search bar. As you add feeds you have the option of adding tags (called “labels”). Individual posts are listed on the left – clicking on a post brings up the content in the view box on the right.

Google Reader is actually Google’s second RSS reader. See Google IG as well, which Google launched in late July. Unlike Google IG, which targets light RSS users who only read a few feeds, their new reader is targeted at those who want to move through a lot of feeds quickly.

What Google Reader Does Well

There are a lot of positive features.

The reader uses ajax quite effectively to avoid page refreshes and to create a great visual experience.

Feeds can be tagged, and individual posts can be kept unread and starred.

The search functionality is excellent, and adding feeds requires no knowledge of RSS, opml or XML. It’s all automatic. Search only pulls up feeds you aren’t already subscribed to.

What Google Reader Is Doing Wrong

As I mentioned above, Google Reader is targeting heavy RSS readers. The product isn’t useful, however, for moving through a large number of feeds efficiently.

Posts are listed in order of “relevance” (which doesn’t seem to actually sort things in any relevant way), or by date. I need posts to be grouped under the individual blog because I read some feeds first – Google Reader doesn’t allow me to do this and I am frustrated trying to find the authors I like to read the most. There is no search functionality within feeds already subscribed to, so there is no way to find this content.

The reader is slow. Paging down through posts results in a long and unacceptable delay. As a side note, importing my OPML list took about 10 minutes. Since this was a one-time cost, it’s not that big of a deal.

Since this is a web-based reader only, there is no syncronization.

Google uses ajax instead of frames. While frames is an old technology, readers using it allow for multiple scroll bars – this means you can keep the feed frames locked while scrolling through individual posts. This needs to be addressed.

There is no unsubscribe button for feeds.

Google Reader is optimized for Firefox. It isn’t working properly on other browsers yet.

Summary

Many of the feature limitations can be addressed, but Google Reader has a long way to go if it is going to seriously threaten existing heavy-duty RSS readers. Brad Hill also posts a lengthy review of Google Reader.

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