Google just killed Google Reader – and they don’t even understand why.

Yesterday, Google officially rolled out the “much anticipated” (by them, perhaps) revisions to Google Reader which removed most of its compelling functionality and added integration with their social network Google+.

We hope you’ll like the new Reader (and Google+) as much as we do, but we understand that some of you may not. Retiring Reader’s sharing features wasn’t a decision that we made lightly, but in the end, it helps us focus on fewer areas, and build an even better experience across all of Google.

I’ll start off with the glaringly obvious usability features. The first one, of course, was best expressed by an anonymous Internet comment that it “looks like a browser with the stylesheets turned off”. It’s mostly white, with a handful of navigation buttons around the top, and an excessive amount of whitespace. The navigation buttons have been rearranged and are in a row along the top, where the previous and next item buttons were previously at the bottom, and the new code doesn’t prefetch as well or scroll as smoothly. Result? It takes a lot longer to get through items. This is a big problem if you use Reader like I do. I skim the contents of about 250 feeds every day, for between 1000 and 2000 news items, but only spend time reading the most interesting ones. It’s taking me between 2-4x as long to get through my unread items as it did previously.

The worst issue, though, is that it’s removed the social functionality from Reader and forces you to use Google+ for your news item discussion. The discussion about this fact seems to center about the fact that it’s not obvious about how to share your new items, to the point where former Google Reader product manager Brian Shih trashes the new revision:

“It’s as if whoever made the update did so without ever actually using the product to, you know, read something. Reader is a product built to consume information, quickly. We designed it to be very good at that one thing. G+ is an experience built around browsing (similar to Facebook) and socializing. Taking the UI paradigm for G+ and mashing it onto Reader without any apparent regard for the underlying function is awful and it shows,” says Brian.

Google, of course, attempts to counter this argument but completely misses the mark. They released a nice blog post showing how to share an item more easily, because it’s a bit non-obvious.

The fundamental flaw, though, isn’t that it’s more challenging to share an article. The real flaw is that it’s now 100% more difficult to actually have a social discussion about the articles you’ve shared.

“Old” Google Reader had a convenient view of showing who was in your sharing circle and highlighting comments they’d made, seen in this WebProNews screenshot:

“New” Reader completely lacks any commenting functionality built in. This means you need to visit 2 different web sites to have a discussion. One web site to read and share the content, and another web site to talk about it with your friends. That’s a 100% increase in the number of steps needed to have a discussion. Trying to make reading the news more social by making it more difficult to have a conversation about the items, is extremely counter-intuitive  at best. Mostly, though, it just reinforces what Brian Shih said above: that they don’t know what they’re doing.

Reader Comment threads were something I looked forward to every day. They’ve been effectively eliminated from my life at this point. Many of the people following my Reader feed specifically preferred not to sign up for Google+, and even the ones who are “users” of Google+ use it in the sense they log in once a week to see how little content there is and feel better about not using it.

I’m not surprised they’ve taken this approach to drive new traffic to Google+ – it’s been in a pretty sharp decline since it was released. They just waited too long between announcing it, and opening it to the public, combined with the fact that it makes a lot of people nervous to have one company with complete access to e-mail, web search behavior, photos and social networking all in one place. Facebook is enough of a privacy nightmare, being specifically designed to break European data protection laws (things we don’t have in the United States) but at least they can’t read my e-mail, too.

I really think this is the end of my time on Reader. Many of the people I previously talked to, just won’t be signing up for Google+ to continue using it. I have no reason to use Reader in Google+ if I don’t have anyone to talk to, and my Reader shares have always been restricted to a very close-knit, hand selected group of people. Now I’m looking for an open-source replacement we can migrate to on an open server. If anyone knows of one, let me know.

Goodbye, Google Reader. We’ll all miss you. And I don’t think Google is going to learn anything from this experience, either.

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