November 23, 2014

Google Reader’s Roach Motel “Un-Friends” the Internet

We all lose now that Google shut down open RSS sharing from Reader

Late this afternoon, Google finally flipped the switch and turned off the integrated “Shared Items” link blogs In Google Reader. Now, Reader automatically shares to Google Plus, a walled-garden social network for nerds. Where once Google embraced standards like RSS, Reader’s shares are now held captive. Lots of folks are not happy about this.

What Changed in Google Reader?

Before: The "Share" toggle was a curated RSS feed of good stuff to read

My big gripe: Google removed the rarely-used but much-loved “shared items” feature and swapped in the Google Plus social network in its place. Although old shared items feeds are still accessible (here’s mine!), they are hidden away and apparently can no longer be modified.

After: +1 is Google's Roach Motel, with only "Send to" remaining

The “Send to” feature remains, but this is a script initiation rather than a toggle like “Share” or “+1”. And “Send to” doesn’t appear in Mobile Reader – only “+1″. So my frequent on-the-go reading and sharing is gone, too.

And you can’t subscribe to your friends’ shared items anymore – you have to read them on Google Plus. Remember, Google Reader is all about RSS. That’s what it is. So removing RSS creation from Reader is inexcusable! If I can’t curate an RSS feed, I’m now left with half a network. It’s consume-only in terms of RSS, with all content curation and creation shifted to Google Plus.

Also gone are public tags, which some folks used and loved, as well as discussions, which were mostly silent. And the blog widget and bookmarklet are now non-functional.

Google also gave the interface the “white-out” treatment, draining it of color like a Halloween vampire. The new interface is so sparse, with exaggerated white space and tiny bold fonts, that my eyes have trouble scanning and reading. Even compared with Google Plus, the new Reader is ugly.

Why This Change Matters

No thanks, Google. Give me back an RSS feed of shares!

Let me repeat what I said above: Google Reader is a social network built on RSS. and it’s just been cut in half. Rather than reading and sharing, Reader is now just an RSS reader application. And even the reading part is emasculated: You can only read site RSS, and since you can’t subscribe to friends’ shared items anymore (’cause they don’t exist). Your readership of others’ “likes” will shift to Plus and its inferior and bloated experience.

In other words, the new Google Reader is nothing more than a static RSS reader in a browser. It used to be much more than this: Reader was my main blog reader, and the first application I went to in the morning. Now it’s much less – Google went backward.

Since there’s no API or RSS feed for Plus shares, Google has created a “Roach Motel” instead of a social network: Likes check in but they can’t check out! Reader’s main sharing feature is a one-way pipe into Google Plus, reducing the value of Reader itself. And there’s no way to automatically “circle” the people you used to follow. They’re just gone.

Alternatives to Plus

Of course, there’s still “Send to”, Google’s customizable sharing feature in Reader. And it’s quite possible to use that to send “likes” to Twitter or Reddit or Facebook. But “Send to” is a “click-hunt-click” experience in the browser, and it’s not available in the mobile version.

A better alternative is to stop using Reader and move to some other application. The problem is that these only allow you to share outward: If you’re interested in continuing to follow the shares of others, you’re out of luck. Most will likely adapt to sharing on Plus only, and those shares are walled off inside Google’s private world.

Unless someone comes up with a workable alternative, or until Google adds RSS or a worthwhile API to Plus, we’re all sunk. And we’re all poorer for it. Thanks, Google.

Stephen’s Stance

I’m not whining and crying because Google broke something I love. I’m upset because Google redirected a vibrant world of sharing into their own walled garden with no way to escape. This move effectively captures the fraternity of Reader sharers and firmly directs them to Google Plus for sharing and commenting. Sure, the new Reader is ugly and features are reduced generally. But the elimination of the sharing and reading feedback loop is a real loss to Internet users.

  • http://www.windowsobserver.com/ WinObs

    Terrific post my friend and right on the mark.  

  • http://labs.eweek.com jasonbrooks

    Google’s ongoing rejection of RSS in G+ is totally baffling

  • http://blog.michaelfmcnamara.com/ Michael McNamara

    Hi Stephen,

    Great post… while I didn’t use all the features that Google Reader offered in the past I too am perplexed at their desire to forcibly drive traffic to G+ in a way that really borks the value that Google Reader has had for all these years. Personally I don’t mind the new styling, unfortunately in this day and age you need a new coat of paint every 2-3 years to stay relevant with the all the new great looking sites out there.

    Cheers!