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March 03, 2007

10 Suggestions to Improve Google Reader

As an avid Google Reader subscriber and shared link blogger, there are a few ways I believe the fastest-growing RSS reader could improve, bettering the user experience and opening new opportunities for both Google and its users.

Keep in mind I have no insight as to Google Reader's plans, or if some of these options are in development or under consideration.

1. "More Like This" Suggestions

Offer a "More Like This" button, suggesting other similar feeds to those I've subscribed to. I may, for instance, be familiar with Matt Cutts' site, but not know about John Battelle. This could be engineered, as Amazon does, to say "Others who subscribed to Jeremy Zadowny also subscribed to Don Dodge or Robert Scoble."

2. Eliminate Duplicate Feed Items

The ability to determine if a story has already been read, and not display it. In fact, the biggest abuser of this for me is Google itself. If I sign up to receive an RSS feed of Google News Alerts on the topic, I'm alerted that the story has changed every hour, even if the only thing that has changed is that Google knows it is "8 hours ago" as opposed to "7 hours ago" and "6 hours ago". Today, this results in my seeing stories that match my keywords up to 25 times.

3. Add Negative Keywords

I'd like the ability to add "negative keywords" to feeds. It's been noted by some Steve Rubel subscribers that they don't want his daily links to hit RSS, and others have complained that Jason Calacanis talks too much about his "fatblogging" initiative, as opposed to his technology and business insight. If I subscribed to Steve Rubel, I could add "links for" as a negative keyword, and for Calacanis, "fatblogging", letting me get the RSS feeds I wanted and not those I didn't, without being forced to completely unsubscribe, which today is the only option.

This is likely more for the broad RSS community, but if anybody has the talent to innovate out, it's Google. I assume there are likely readers of my own blog who would prefer not to get sports updates or comments on politics as well, so filters would be a wildly utilized feature across the Web.

4. Share Items Without Subscriptions

Enable the ability to share RSS items without first requiring subscription to the feed. Often, I may run into an interesting story and want to share it, but not have it in my RSS subscription list. I should, for example, be able to add a story to my shared links blog from CNN or MSNBC without getting every story sent my way.

5. Aggregate Reader Statistics

Display of aggregate statistics from readers. What are the most frequently read blogs? What ones have the highest % read rate in specific categories? What are the most popularly shared stories that day? Scoble has mentioned that enabling a popularity index would threaten sites like Digg, if it gained mass appeal.

6. Addition of Search

Really, Google. If your job is to search and archive all the world's information, then how does temporarily displaying news items that go away permanently, without offering an ability to search them, fit into that mission? Today, Google Reader offers no way to search through unread items, requiring you to either view them chronologically, by category or by individual feed.

7. Create a Link Blogs Directory

Show a directory of shared Google reader Link Blogs, organized both alphabetically and ranked by popularity of readership.

8. Further Integrate "Trends"

Add "Trends" to the main bar, below "Home", "All Items", "Starred Items" and "Shared Items" for easy access. I've actually made a bookmark for my trends, which I check on occasion.

9. Expand Individual Feed Statistics

Add more statistics by feed. Google Reader trends show the most active sites over the previous 30 days, and also show those which haven't been updated recently, but I don't get an indication as to the timing frequency of each feed. What time do they update, or on which days? Are they publishing more frequently now than they were two weeks ago? A "Show feed trends" could dive down into the individual RSS feed's statistics.

10. Customization Everywhere

More interface options. Google may favor simplicity, but there's zero options to customize a shared link blog. For example, the "Powered by Google Reader" message takes up a third of the real estate. I also can't customize the look and feel of the Google Reader interface itself, to change colors or layout.