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July 21, 2009

Google Reader "Likes" Find the More Shy Blog Readers

Since Google Reader introduced new social aspects to their popular RSS reader last Wednesday, there have been a number of reactions to the additions - most specifically around their introduction of a "like" feature, enabling readers to essentially give a "thumbs up" to an article, as they can on FriendFeed, Facebook, Socialmedian and other networks. But those people who are claiming the exposed likes are cluttering the interface are missing the point completely. The likes functionality not only is a lightweight way to flag a story of interest, but it's a tremendous way to help blog authors and readers find others who may have been keeping a lower profile - those who don't also blog and link your way, and those who don't visit the site to leave comments.

Every single blog post that flows through Google Reader now has the option to be shared or liked. And if a post is liked by somebody, Google Reader shows how many people have liked it across the network. Clicking on the number, such as "4 people liked this" exposes who liked it and a quick mouse over any of the names presents you with a short summary from their Google Profile. So not only can I take pleasure in the fact that people I already know are reading and liking some of the same articles I am, but I am finding new people who share similar interests, and finally cracking the mystery of who actually reads my blog.

I didn't know Hannah read my blog!


Jeff's a local guy - sounds cool...


And Kris knows Digital Syndication and RSS! Awesome.

It's well known that a small percentage of content consumers take action on the content, aside from passively reading it. And as the social Web has evolved, the options to respond to posts have diversified. In the last few years specifically, we have seen a reduction in linking from blogs to other blogs, and a move away from comments on the initial site and more to aggregation services like FriendFeed and Facebook, or even away from comments altogether, instead to ReTweeting - essentially the act of forwarding links to your social connections on Twitter.


Google Reader Is Seeing a Boom In Connections Over the Last Week

The comment has also evolved to include sharing and liking. I act as an information filter to the hundreds of people who read my shared items blog and in turn hundreds of people's shared items blog come my way. And following FriendFeed's lead, as Rob Diana pointed out, the advent of likes makes flagging an article as simple as clicking the "like" option, a move Google Reader has now followed. This lightweight option means that the quiet multitude of readers who to date has not chosen to leave me a comment on the blog just might find a like more palatable - helping me learn who they are, and, assuming their Google Profile is complete, find out where else they are active.

If the argument against likes is simply an issue with the user interface, that's fine. UI is relatively "easy" to alter and improve. But if the argument is to eliminate this new way of interacting with content, then that is certainly a losing battle. You cannot force readers to do what you want them to on your terms, and the more flexible programs are in terms of letting content consumers take action, the more likely it is that more of them will. I am enjoying checking out the likes on my Google Reader items and finding new people I really should know better - even if they are shy.