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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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So Google’s added an online RSS aggregator to their Google Labs. I was excited to say the least and quickly imported an OPML version of my Bloglines subscriptions (numbering 279 at present). I figured that I’d switch in a heartbeat if it was cool like Google Maps—you know, a whole new way of looking at feeds. After the import, it said that I had 211 feeds so there’s the first blemish.

After trying to mimic my Bloglines style of reading feeds and failing miserably, I took the tour to see what the developers had intended the flow to be like. Uhh, nothing much there. Slugging through the interface, I was confronted by numerous slowdowns. As near as I can figure, this is geared towards someone with a limited number of subscriptions that likes to browse each item one by one.

The initial screen you’re dropped into after importing or adding subscriptions reads like a long chronological list of feed items. By default, they’re sorted by relevance, which has no meaning since I haven’t given Google a context to determine what is relevant or not. Further, I carefully organize my feeds into folders (called labels by Google Reader) so that I can read a folder at a time, thereby making my huge feed collection digestible. The imported labels are nowhere to be found on the initial screen. I have to click on “Your subscriptions”—an odd formulation for “my” feed reader—and that adds a little table above the regular feed reading interface where I can see labels and the feeds they contain. If I click on a label, it appears to bring up the feeds it subsumes into the reader interface but it’s hard to say.

So, for me, Google Reader is a no go for the following reasons:<ol><li>I couldn’t possibly deal with its slowness. It would be beyond maddening over time.</li><li>I want labels on the front page so that I can easily read the feeds they hide.</li><li>There needs to be a way to view all the items in a feed or folder of feeds at once and mark all of them read. My general feed reading style is to scroll through a dozen feeds worth of items in one long page, looking for things that strike me. Feeds aren’t email: there’s just too many items to scroll through one by one.</li><li>Google Reader is missing the helpful little details that Bloglines has: the Firefox extension for easy subscription, the subscriber count on every feed, Citations (oh, what a lovely feature), the item counts on the folders and the individual feeds, and countless other little UI niceties that make for a more satisfying experience. Granted, Google Reader is still in its infancy but I’m certainly not growing to stick around to raise it.</li></ol>

[UPDATE: Oh, one thing that it does have is excellent Javascript obfuscation. I have to hope that there is an automatic step that transforms nice, well-documented Javascript into this. If there isn’t, then I hope the QA process is extensive since I could see typographical errors being really serious business with that.]