Warning, this is going to be a ranty post not really related to my expertise.

There are two types of blog reader — those who use RSS feeds and those who don’t. Those who don’t, visit a few blogs each day to see what’s new. Those who use RSS feeds, use a feed reader that alerts them when there are new posts. This is great for those who would like to consume the content of many blogs. I’m one of those and I use Google Reader to do it. According to the stats, I subscribe to 318 feeds, and in the last month, I have ‘read’ 19,524 items, clicked on 163, starred 9, and emailed 3. Of course, most of those I have just breezed past. But it is an efficient way of keeping up.

Now there are plenty of ways to read RSS feeds. Safari has a feed reader built into the browser but it isn’t easily transportable across devices. These days you can read feeds in magazine format using Flipboard or something similar for the iPad. But here is why I settled on Google Reader years ago: (i) it is the same across all devices; (ii) when I move past something, it considers it read and so I don’t see it again on any device; (iii) it was easy to click through and represented the items in a reasonable format and (iv) it was really designed for ‘large variety readers’ such as myself.

Interestingly, it hasn’t always been this way. The first version of Google Reader had a very slick look but was hard to use and so I didn’t. The redesign, maybe 5 years ago now, brought forward the current version and that has worked very well. It wasn’t pretty but it was functional for the task at hand; managing information overload.

Thanks to Google+, Google have now moved to push on a common minimalist style across all their things. Of course, they pioneered this with their web page but never really took it everywhere. But now Google has gone for white, no borders, big buttons etc. Yesterday, it rolled out this for Gmail but those changes I can cope with. But for Google Reader, the design is critical because you need the lines in order to be able to skim through quickly. In that world, you don’t want minimalism, you want efficient packing. And I’m not the only one to lament the new change.

Now this is a free service so Google can do what they want. Moreover, you can use other apps to access Google Reader information so there is choice. But one has to wonder what is going on here. When it comes down to it, who said that minimalism works? Apple, for instance, doesn’t go this way. There are no big white spaces and they are very careful to use textures when there are. The Google design can be called clean but it isn’t beautiful or functional. The Google Reader logo even looks blurry. Your eye isn’t drawn correctly to the right information and there is a hint that something is wrong.

The sad part about this is that Google — in keeping these products all separate — is missing an opportunity to provide a common interface. I can image a common dashboard to quickly process information. After all, Google are in the business of helping with information overload. All of these moves seem like a step in the wrong direction.

Anyhow, I guess I’ll just get used to it.

End of rant.

12 Responses to Google Reader design, sigh

  1. rich sweeney says:

    totally agree. really really prefer the old design.

  2. Chris says:

    I didn’t like the old design and this one is worse. Fundamentally, a good reading experience needs longer, narrower columns of text than Google Reader provides. I can’t believe they take up a third of the available vertical space on my laptop screen with toolbars.

    I’ve been very happy with the reading experience of the Reeder software for Mac and iOS. It syncs across devices using a Google Reader account, and the sync behavior has always been well-behaved for me.

  3. Hillary says:

    I agree completely (and I’m probably going to test other options this weekend). I can’t see the gray on white on my work monitors or my laptop – there just isn’t enough contrast. If it’s hard for me to see with good vision and good equipment, I can’t imagine it would be workable for someone with visual impairment. By the way, your comment box gives me the same problem.

    It seems like they didn’t consider how much real estate the new look would take away on widescreen monitors. Most of my feeds come in at less than the screen width, so I have a couple inches of empty space on the right and lost an inch on top.

  4. Michael says:

    One thing I’d note is that you can hit ‘f’ (assuming you have shortcuts enabled) and it goes to full screen, which eliminates many of the design problems (as it’s basically the same as the old design). It’s only really practical if you use the keyboard shortcuts (or macros on your mouse) to navigate the articles.

  5. RM says:

    Agree! I also hate the fact that Google and a bunch of other companies feel the need to make their products more web 2.0 interface, although sometimes it does not make sense at all.

    The top concerns for me are:
    1. No Like button
    2. It’s hard to see which item is read and which one is not if you have Detailed View and just scroll. Before, it was easy to spot out the unread items in bold blue. Now everything is black, it is quite hard to distinguish.
    3. The top takes a lot space, and usually not useful at all.

    The new GMail theme color is also hard to read. But it looks more like the new cutesy new-y website of 2011. Have to go with the trend I guess!

  6. S. says:

    “Now this is a free service so Google can do what they want.”

    I wouldn’t expect to hear this sentence from an economist.

  7. @HandNF says:

    I disagree. It seems like in the long run, all the Google products will converge into Google+ somehow. The GUI has been implemented in all these products.

    I don’t use Google Reader, preferring another RSS reader. However, I do agree that the optimization of information in a compact area is better for prosumers. Hopefully they’ll backtrack on their design and give you a choice.

  8. David Stern says:

    Yes, I don’t like it either. Clicking on titles in the homepage view seems to do nothing at all now and the whole thing takes up more screenspace which is critical on a laptop and I imagine even more so on a tablet etc.

  9. JaneZ says:

    It is not only about inferior design. They try to boost popularity of G+ herding “commodity” from Google Reader. Disgusting.

    There is some hope, however:
    http://hiveminedblog.tumblr.com/
    Folks are re-writing the reader as it was, including the precious sharing and commenting functions.

  10. DianaH says:

    @JaneZ – agree completely. Propping up a failing platform by forcing changes in one that’s working doesn’t strike me as a great strategy, and as a daily user of reader, I do not appreciate the changes much less the motives.

  11. Scott Turner says:

    If you use Firefox & Greasemonkey, this script:

    http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/58577

    will greatly improve the new UI, particularly if you make use of the CSS customizations here:

    http://userscripts.org/topics/72065

  12. nottsunistudent says:

    Just clicked through from Reader to say I totally agree with the rant. Hope someone form Google is reading this.

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