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March 09, 2008

10 Suggestions for Google Reader, One Year Later

On March 3rd of last year, I posted one of the more active and popular posts in louisgray.com's history, offering my thoughts on where I hoped Google Reader would take the service. In a simple "10 suggestions" format, I listed some ideas that were small enhancements, and others, more broad. Now that we've had just over a year go by, I thought it'd be interesting to check back in with Google Reader and see what's changed. How many of the 10 did they hit, and if they didn't get it, who did?

In my opinion, you'll see that due to Google Reader's not filling all the gaps I laid out a year ago, a cottage industry of RSS readers and link aggregators has emerged - great for the Web, not always so great for Google.

1. "More Like This" Suggestions

I asked Google to recommend feeds based on those I subscribed to.

Google added a broad "Suggestions" feature, based on all my feeds in aggregate. They haven't implemented this feature on a feed by feed basis, as in my example: "Others who subscribed to Jeremy Zawodny also subscribed to Don Dodge or Robert Scoble.", but they do get partial credit here.

Who did implement something like this the way I asked? Nobody, really. AssetBar claimed to have solved this in their initial product description, but I haven't yet seen it. NewsGator, Shyftr, Fav.or.it, also don't do it, as far as I can tell. Neither does RSSMeme, although the service does try to find similar posts, and FriendFeed offers recommended user subscriptions.

(Of interest, I'm beta testing one solution that does exactly this. More on that soon.)

2. Eliminate Duplicate Feed Items

Nobody likes getting the same feed item over and over. Over the year, Google has done a lot of work here to have this fixed. There are still issues with seeing duplicate items if you have subscribed to a friend's shared items feed, or if you've subscribed to keywords via Google News, but largely, this is not as big an issue in 2008 as it was in 2007.

Who else fixed the duplicate items issue? Shyftr's implementation here is flawless. AssetBar also does a fantastic job showing just one item, though if I look at an item I've already viewed, through a friend's shared link list, it doesn't always know I've already seen it. The issue of duplicate items continues to be a major point of discussion on FriendFeed and elsewhere.

3. Add Negative Keywords

For some folks, I'd like the option to get almost all their posts, except when they talk about politics (Dave Winer), fatblogging (Jason Calacanis), or if they just post a series of del.icio.us links (Steve Rubel and Chris Brogan come to mind).

Google hasn't done anything here. But Ionut at Google Operating System highlighted a new Greasemonkey script that works in FireFox to approach this by highlighting posts with keywords you select and grays out those you would like to exclude (See the post: Filters for Google Reader).

Who does do this right? AssetBar again claimed to when introducing their product, but if it's integrated, I haven't seen it.

4. Share Items Without Subscriptions

I'd like to add items to my shared link items feed without subscribing.

While Google didn't do anything about this, I discussed a work-around back in January.

Who does this right? Just about all the link aggregators, including LinkRiver, AssetBar and FriendFeed let you share items without subscriptions. ReadBurner had implemented this as well before Alexander Marktl had to take the site down.

5. Aggregate Reader Statistics

I wanted to know the most frequently read blogs, and what were the most shared items that day.

Google Reader recently added a "Details" item, showing how many Google Reader users were subscribed to a specific blog, but they're nowhere on showing rankings or seeing the most popular shared items in a single day.

Who does this now? As discussed a ton here in 2008, the shared items space took off like a rocket. FeedHeads had done a fantastic job and pioneered this space, on FaceBook, while ReadBurner, RSSMeme, Shared Reader, and LinkRiver all offer details on most popular shared items. Amusingly, in an attempt to discover the most popular items by Google Reader, everybody from Scoble to TechCrunch was fighting to add the data they did have by hand.

6. Addition of Search

At the time, Google Reader was missing core Google functionality - search!

The Google Reader team solved this one in a big way back in September. Nice job.

Who else offers search through feeds? LinkRiver, AssetBar, RSSMeme, and Shyftr all do this very well. So far, Fav.or.it does not, and FriendFeed I'm sure will, but hasn't gotten there yet.

7. Create a Link Blogs Directory

I wanted to see a directory of Google Reader link blogs both ranked by name and by interest.

Google Reader, so far, has largely neglected the power and discovery of link blogs, so this is nowhere.

Who does do this? RSSMeme offers a directory of the most active link bloggers, based on total number of shared items, as did ReadBurner. AssetBar integrates shared link blogs and shows which ones are most read by individuals, but doesn't yet have aggregate data. Nobody has mastered a directory by name, by topic, or by subscriber count yet.

8. Further Integrate "Trends"

I wanted my trends data to be easily accessible from Google Reader.

Google Reader integrated Trends relatively quickly. It was an easy fix.

Who else does this? LinkRiver, as noted last night, features a page called "Attention" on who I share more often and what are the top keywords. FriendFeed offers a "Stats" page showing who I interact with the most, and who interacts with me. RSSMeme integrated global statistics, but not by user. And AssetBar shows all my stats on my profile, in aggregate.

9. Expand Individual Feed Statistics

I'd love to see stats by feed as to their schedule, and if things have changed.

Google Reader has shown basic statistics on how often a feed publishes. (i.e. loisgray.com publishes 10.7 stories per week) But beyond this, more data is missing.

Who else does this? RSSMeme offers the ability to see what the most popular shared items were, by source, which is very interesting, considering individual post popularity, but nobody that I'm aware of has tackled the expanded feed statistics set.

10. Customization Everywhere

Google Reader, unlike iGoogle or other portals, comes in one flavor. So does their link blog.

In the year since my initial post, Google added the ability to customize a small profile to include in my link blog, with links out to other sites, but with that exception, there remains no customization for my application interface or the shared items blog.

Who does do this? Not really anybody comes to mind. iGoogle, My Yahoo! and portal sites that have integrated RSS feeds enable a great deal of customization, but as far as the main application's interface is concerned, it's usually a take it or leave it strategy.

It can be seen that Google has made some strides toward my 10 suggestions. They integrated trends. They nailed Search. They added suggestions. They improved by reducing duplicates. But they dramatically fell short when it came to harnessing the power of link blogs, and this gap enabled more focused services to emerge to fill the hole - services which are now growing and becoming very interesting. The Reader team has also largely stayed quiet, making it uncertain as to whether we should look to them for innovation, or elsewhere. There's no question Google Reader is a fantastic application, one I use multiple times a day, and one I haven't yet seen eclipsed, even by the next generation readers, enough so to get me to switch. But if they get out-innovated, that time may eventually pass.