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'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,, 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 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, 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. 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.


  1. Maybe they'll buy up the companies that do all of these things already, then integrate it into Google Reader? Seems to be all the rage to do so...

    It's a bit lazy of them though to not have the majority of these features already implemented, but what can you say. They'll do what they want.

  2. I'd say #5 was solved by

  3. does suggest feeds, we are the only service fully supporting APML and have clear graphs showing the captured attention data, plus tag clouds built out of your tags that you read the most,

    We then use that data to suggest what stories you should read next, we do not suggest specific feeds (although it would be very easy to do so.) because the content is more important than the specific feed.

    To me the quality of the individual posts, ranked by what everyone thinks is much better because even lower level blogs get a chance to get read rather than the usual 'lets all read the top 5% of the blogosphere' syndrome which takes attention away from some fantastic blogs.

  4. 1. We do not suggest individual feeds - because we feel suggesting individual content is more important than the whole feed - if our users read a particular post then they can decide to then subscribe to that feed (or in fact to the writer, who may write for more than one blog) - suggesting a feed is less powerful as than one feed may write across a number of topics, our system targets the user with content based upon their attention data - here is mine publicly shared -

    2. We do not have any duplicates

    3. Negative Keywords - We do not (yet) do negative - but we do have by far
    the most powerful keyword filtering - allowing you to filter by one or more
    keywords, plus we produce you a cloud/list of keywords that apply to the
    content stream that is left after you have filtered it.

    4. We have the most powerful share system by far - you can share to twitter /
    delicious and to your own library - and without needing to subscribe to any
    particular feed.

    6. We DO do this, our search engine is based upon the keywords from
    the blog and we calculate keywords based upon the post, BUT most
    importantly we have 'human powered search' as our community can alter the
    keywords if they dont like them. This will become much more powerful as
    community expands.

    7. Link blog - because of our share system you can share more than one 'library'
    you can be as creative as you like, and that library can be shared in a whole
    load of different ways.

    check out this url - - this just a tiny 15 item
    library I created over the weekend when demoing the product at startup camp.

    8. Again look at this - - you can share yours as well just go to the profile / preferences page to turn it on.

    Lastly no one else in the world integrates commenting - commenting is one of the biggest barriers in making the blogosphere easier to understand and use, with integrated commenting we remove this barrier completely.

  5. the one key item I think you missed was integrated comments - all too often there is interesting commentary in the comments but all too often I miss it.