When Google released its Google Reader, I was very interested in testing it out. I remain a big fan of Gmail, and thought, if the Google Reader is half as good a product as Gmail, it might really give Bloglines a run for its money. Unfortunately the Google Reader is nowhere near being half as good as Gmail is in its niche. It would be generous to say that the Google Reader is one tenth as good.
First to the positives. I did appreciate the keyboard shortcuts which the Google Reader introduced. They are helpful and necessary. It is unfortunate for Google that Bloglines was able to introduce its own keyboard shortcuts just a few days afterwards, thus eliminating that as a way of differentiating the two products.
1. No easy way of marking all items as read
I confess that sometimes I fall behind in my blog reading, and I'm sure I'm not the only one. When this happens, and I find that I have hundreds of unread items, how do I get on top of things? One way would be to doggedly skim through everything, even if it's exhausting, knowing all along that new things are coming in but that I'm still stuck on posts that are days or weeks old. That's my not style. Instead my preference is to do this only for my most favourite blogs, the ones that I really want to keep up with. As for all the others, I just mark them all as read, knowing that I've probably missed some good stuff, but that I'll probably catch an echo of these missed posts later on.
The Google Reader does not have a "mark all read" function - on either a global level or a blog level. There is no option but to plough through all the unread entries. I can only hope that they fix this, because until they do, I would never use the Google Reader to subscribe to a large number of blogs. No, just a small group for here, thank you very much!
2. No refreshing of feeds
This is the very worst problem about the Google Reader, the absolute show-stopper from my point of view. I only just discovered it this afternoon and it's what prompted me to write this entry now. Bloglines is very dilligent about updating the feeds which it subscribes to, so it catches all the edits which are invariably made to a blog post. For example, this is the Bloglines screenshot of my entry from Monday night. It is up to date, and has the same content (albeit with different formatting) as what is on the actual blog right now.
Now look at the Google Reader screenshot, which I took this afternoon. The version it shows is the very first version of this post. It does not contain the extensive edits which I made on Tuesday morning, neither does it show the minor edits which I made 5 minutes after sending the original post. Irrespective of what you think about the practice of post-publication editing, it is a very bad idea not to be able to see the current version of a blog post.
Consider this situation where blogger A writes a post containing significant errors - factual, typographical or otherwise. These errors are corrected as soon as blogger A discovers them, along with a few words of apology and explanation. Normally this would be the end of the story. But blogger B is using the Google Reader, and only sees the original version of blogger A's post containing the uncorrected errors. Blogger B writes a scatching critique of blogger A's post, and nastiness ensues. In the end, both blogger A and blogger B look bad, but I dare say, blogger B would look worse.
One of the hopes which I had for the Google Reader was that it might re-imagine feed reading in a similar way that Gmail did with web-based email. Google tried a few things in this area, but none of them has really impressed.
For example, ranking subscribed blogs by relevance is very unhelpful. For one thing, relevance to what? Relevance has only meaning in the context of a search. The search statement is what determines the relevancy of the answers. But in the Google Reader there is no search statement, so how can there be relevance? Well, Google says this about relevance in the FAQ, "You can order your list by date or relevance, which prioritizes the items that seem most relevant to you." Not very helpful. Does it have something to do with the blogs being subscribed to? Does this mean that if you have turned on Google's Personalized Search feature, that relevance will be determined by that data? Or will it be determined by the things I write in Gmail? What if I don't use the Personalized Search and only use Gmail as spambait? It's not like I'm after the source code, just some basic explanation of what's going on here.
Whatever the answer is, the relevance ranking is weird, and it doesn't pass my sniff test.
Yes, the Google Reader also has googlish labels and stars. Fix the other problems first and then maybe I'll be interested.