Google Reader Getting Overhauled, Removing Your Friends

Today Google announced its long-ignored RSS app Google Reader is getting an update. Most notably, it’s getting a fresh new design along the same lines as Google’s other products, like Docs, Maps, Search and Gmail. While I’m not entirely thrilled about this change (I prefer the utilitarian look for the service), I understand Google’s need to maintain user interface consistency across its online products.

What really bothers me, however, is Google’s casual decision to remove all of Google Reader’s “social” features, including friending, following and shared link blogs.

Look, I get that there’s probably only ten of you out there reading this who care much about changes to Google Reader. For mainstream news consumers, that Google is now streamlining and beautifying this neglected product is probably welcome news. But for those of us who use Google Reader regularly as a utility – as a place to track, follow, archive and search dozens of sources of information from favorite blogs to company feeds and more – any change to Reader has the equivalent impact as an overhaul of Gmail. In other words, proceed carefully or prepare for an earful.

And in this particular case, here comes the earful: I’m going to miss the “social” features Google Reader delivers.

Wait, don’t laugh!

To be clear, I don’t really consider or use Google Reader as “social” product like Facebook, Twitter or Google+ (hence the quotes). I don’t comment much on feeds, or friend and follow dozens of users. But I do enjoy reading the shares from a select group of heavy-duty RSS consumers who are consistently sharing interesting items. When I’m behind on the day’s news, all I have to do is read TechCrunch, TechMeme and this carefully constructed “human curated” list of shares. It is, and will be up until the day it disappears, one of the most regular and enjoyable news consumption behaviors I engage in every day.

Although there are many other services out there that promise to bubble up relevant content based on my interests, the best product I’ve used to date was the human curation of my Google Reader friends. Not only did my group consistently share the top tech news I’d want to read, they also share those oddball but interesting stories from outside of tech, including humorous cartoons, popular videos, space and science news, parenting tips and other news completely unrelated to tech, but still compelling.

Of course, there were probably only a handful of us really using this feature, so of course, like all those other services Google is shutting down, it’s getting axed too. But Google, if you think I’m going to “Circle” this group in order to continue reading their shares, you’ve got another thing coming. You can’t force me into using Google+ by stealing pieces of Google Reader. That’s not how that’s going to work.