Oct 312011

Google today rolled out a new version of Google Reader with the sole purpose of forcing people to use Google+.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Google+. I’ve been able to talk to numerous people because of it and in many ways it has opened more doors of opportunity for socializing than Facebook or Twitter ever could.

But one of the nice things about the old version of Reader is that it let you share articles with a select group of friends with whom the articles shared a common interest. Because it had its own “People You Follow” section, it gave us one-click access to look at all of the articles that our friends shared out.  It gave us a way to quickly point out interesting articles to each other and often spurred some interesting comment threads within. A simple change to boldface to the “People You Follow” header let us know when one of us shared a new article.  It was quick and efficient.

Today, Google decided to change how Reader works so that articles only get shared to your Google+ stream – mixed in with the hundreds or thousands that people in your circles might already get in a day.  When you have hundreds or thousands of people in your circles, it’s going to be close to impossible to know exactly when a previous Reader friend shared out an article because it will get caught in the flood of other shared articles.

You could put your old Reader friends into a special circle; but then you’ll need to manually check that circle to see if they shared anything out.  If they didn’t, you checked for no reason.  You’ll then have to manually click again to go back to your main stream. They added a multiple-step process to something that was very simple – look at the screen. If “People You Follow” wasn’t boldfaced, you knew that there were no shared articles. Now you won’t know unless you manually create and check a special circle for your Reader friends. Really, Google?  Was this absolutely necessary?

What’s worse is that if the articles you shared out among friends are not in the interest of people who have you in their circles, you risk losing followers because of the new flood of articles that used to be restricted to just your Reader friends.  Sure, there’s always a chance of getting more followers who realize “Hey, he likes that topic, too!” But this change is still going to make it ridiculously cumbersome for previous Reader friends to find articles that each of the others share out.

This is a stupid change that could have easily accommodated both options: give a “share to Reader” option to keep articles within Reader and a +1 option to share to Google Plus for those articles that would have a more broad appeal. All that Google had to do was to give people the choice with an extra link to click at the bottom of each article. That’s it. Had they done that, no one would be complaining about the functionality. (I’m sure that people would have complained about the new formatting, but that’s a different topic. The new formatting doesn’t really bother me).

But when it comes to sharing articles, this new Reader change to force people to use Google+ is unnecessary. Apparently, Google has decided to steal an idea from the Facebook playbook – make an insipid change that went way beyond what needed to be done.

People who used Reader to share articles with a select group of friends might as well go back to sharing articles via chat or e-mail. It will be more efficient than the new Reader.