Thursday, September 15, 2011

Google Reader Integration

I haven't written a non-book-review post in a while because I'm wary of writing too much about Google+. Sorry if you're sick of that. If so, move on now.

I'm astonished that Google hasn't yet integrated Google Reader into Google+, or even updated Google Reader. It even still has the old blue clunky interface. I'm holding out hope for some smooth new updates, and I've figured out what I want them to look like. The idea came to me when I realized that I've been using Reader less, and Google+ more.

Because most people never really caught on to RSS feeds. I love them because I love getting articles pushed to me, instead of having to visit each of my favorite websites to check for updates. Reader adds to this with a social component: I can easily share articles with my contacts who also use Reader, and we have our own little comment thread.

A couple problems with Google Reader: 

  1. Not everyone uses Google Reader. In fact, only my Google-lovin' friends do, and that's an extremely limited (and geeky) cohort. 
  2. Content is limited to what you find in your RSS feeds, and not all sites have RSS feeds.
  3. There are some usability bugs that seem to have been ignored. For example, if a friend and I are subscribed to the same feed, we can each separately share the same article, and start two separate conversations about it. That's dumb.
Now, Google+ has a cute little feature for bringing content into the Google+ conversation, Sparks. But it's woefully inadequate. I had a spark set up for "So You Think You Can Dance", and it occasionally picked up articles about the TV show, but it also picked up some random nonsense. And it never picked up what I really wanted, which was YouTube clips and episode reviews. It's as if Sparks used a worse search algorithm than Google. Dumb. Don't get me started on what happened when I tried "west coast swing."

But when I think about it, there are two types of websites: those that change, and those that stay the same. And I want to be able to share them both.

Whenever I come across a website I like, or think I might like to visit again, I bookmark it. If I want to share it with someone, I can copy the link and paste it into an email or G+. But I want them to go one better: I want my profile's +1 tab to serve as my bookmarks. I want them to be organized, sortable, and searchable, and I want each to have the same sharing preferences as a G+ post (private, limited, or public). And when I add a new bookmark/+1, I want the option to post it to my stream with those sharing preferences.

Reader should be converted into a G+ tab (like the games tab) for outside content sources. It would really be RSS or Atom feeds, but the average user doesn't need to know that. Here's how it would work: I go to a website or blog that is regularly updated and has a feed. Through some button, extension, or plugin, I click on something that adds this feed to my outside content sources tab. Maybe it pops up a dialog box that says, "Track this page using Google+?"

Then when I go to my outside content sources tab, it can present all the latest updates from those tracked sites. I should be able to organize them (perhaps by topic), sort them (for example by most recent or most shared), and search (all posts with "iOS") and filter (no posts with "iOS") them.

Most importantly, I should be able to post articles to my stream, and share them with all the same sharing preferences (to one circle, all circles, public, etc.).

Small improvements, big results
With Google Reader and RSS feeds already widely used, I don't think this would be too difficult to implement. It's mostly a matter of improving the sorting/tagging of links/feeds, adding filters, and adding an interface. But the result would be huge: Google+ users would have a much easier time getting content to share. Instead of cutting and pasting links, we'd have a whole tab of original content to draw from. And of course, more quality content means more activity.

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