Google Reader: another ruined service

Posted on October 31, 2011

I know that in writing this post, I’m really just heaping on complaints at this point, but think there’s a larger issue at hand here.

Basically, Google updated Google Reader today, and it is… horrible. We all knew these changes were coming, but I think there was some hope that things wouldn’t be that bad: some cosmetic changes, or perhaps a slightly more awkward sharing interaction – but the reality turned out to be far worse.

The thing that gets me the most is that they severely broke sharing. Until today I had a few people that I would share links with – tech articles, web comics, whatever. We kept the links between us and didn’t really need to share them with everyone else. All of the sharing was done within Reader – I saw other people’s posts in the same interface that I read my own. Now, however, the interaction is split between Reader and Google+ such that Reader is now one-way: you read your articles through it, and you can share them via email or G+. So if I want to see what someone else has shared, I have to (1) follow them on Google+, and (2) go to Google+ and look at their items on there. Yes, it can streamlined somewhat with Circles, but the interaction is still heavily broken. I don’t really see why they couldn’t have built something into Reader to allow you to see other people’s shared items through the Reader interface. I think if it did have that, I’d be fine with these other changes.

To be fair, I understand why they did this. Google is trying to force everyone to use G+, and the service was built for sharing links. But breaking another service to force people into it just doesn’t make sense. Further, Google knew what they were doing. In their releases they even said that they knew ‘some’ people were going to be unhappy. I’m not sure who the people are that are happy with these changes, but it seems that there are lot more angry folks out there.

I think the worst part is that they took something that was pretty good and broke it for some perceived greater good. Yes, the interface was relatively antiquated and the old sharing didn’t fit with Google’s current push towards G+, but this feels more like a general disregard for the users. There’s an adage on the Internet that says that if you’re not paying for a service, then you’re the product. I’m sure that’s true here, and if Google couldn’t properly commoditize the previous iteration of  Reader, then they had to change that. Still, it feels like Google is going further away from whatever altruistic beliefs they had about free and open Internet and all that, and are moving more towards making money. And that’s all well and good for them, but it leaves a lot of us behind in the dust.

There are a few Reader replacements out right now, and a few more that people are cobbling together. Hopefully one of them is just as good; I’ll certainly switch to whatever better service comes around. And I will almost certainly not be the only one.

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