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Google’s white fence

Google was dreaming of a white Christmas, and I was hoping Santa would bring back my old Google Reader. Then I was hoping it would be Google’s New Year Resolution to fix Google Reader… I’m not holding my breath anymore nor my criticism. Actually I wasn’t quiet at all about my displeasure with the changes that were made, it was clear I was not happy with Google:

I said in my tweets I would blog later about the issue, and it has been two months. Why the delay? I was holding out hope that Google would listen to the weblash and make some changes. Google Reader was not one of the apps shut down by Google but for many it might as well been.

If Google wanted to ‘fix’ a broken app then it should have started with Google Bookmarks, at least no one is using it so it wouldn’t have mattered if they screwed it up.

I just don’t understand why Google had to change Google Reader. After ignoring it for years, they decide to ‘shake things up.’ Yes I know Google Reader is a free tool, but the ramifications of these changes have financial impact for Google. For instance, not viewing items in Google Reader as often means I view & click on less Google ads. Not to mention the fact that after the change I was ready to ditch Google Reader, Chrome, and even my beloved Android phone.

So what got this librarian so irate?

Timing. I was planning on submitting this wonderful (ok maybe not earth shattering but good) paper proposal for the Medical Librarian Association’s Meeting this year… then came Larry Page’s, who was just prematurely named CEO of the year, changes ruining a great tool. I don’t know if it was actually Larry Page who initiated the Google Reader changes but whoever is trying to make Google into Apple and/or Facebook needs to be reminded that Google is NOT Apple or Facebook. Google is trying to sell not just a mobile phone platform and browser but email, reader, documents, applications, programs… it is different than selling an iPhone.

Steve Jobs said “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Well Google has shown me the new Reader and I know for sure I do not want it. Stop looking at the facts and figures Page and listen to your users.

Google Reader is a curator of news and NOT a news source. Flipboard offers a much nicer experience for reading news. Even with Google Reader Play, I would rather use Flipboard or Zite or another third party app to view my Google Reader feeds.

What Google Reader offered was the ability to easily share items with notes, add notes to view later, follow other curators, create RSS feeds of items you tagged so you could port them into a newsletter, feed items in a controlled fashion to Twitter using, etc. Now Google is forcing us to share items through Google+. I am sorry Google but taking away Google Reader features will not get me to use Google+ any faster, in fact it will and has done the opposite.

Even Google Reader doesn’t want to share items using Google+

Yes you can find the Google Reader team on Twitter, get the RSS feed (you know RSS… what feeds Google Reader, but Google shut down the RSS feeds for folders and tags), but wait… something’s missing here. Oh yeah, where’s Google Reader on Google+? Don’t squint too hard, it’s not there.

The changes to Google Reader went far deeper than the simple interface change many users were complaining about. I am fine with Google adding white space, it’s what’s behind the white space that is causing issues. Fences. Many features no longer work or are just broken. Outcry has erupted across the globe with good reason. Google not only took away features but it did so without giving users the chance to save shared items or the list of followers/followed by. Data you curate is no longer your’s to do with as you please, Google dictates you use Google+– and data is no longer safe with Google since it can be deleted at anytime. This goes against Google’s big push for user’s ability to liberate their data. Heck, it goes against what any good company should do… ever.

Even the previous project manager for Google Reader agrees:

Google Reader Product Manager Brian Shih noted that the new Reader app is a “disaster.” “it’s as if whoever made the update did so without ever actually using the product to, you know, read something.”

I agree. The additions were not vetted by people who actually use Google Reader… geeks. It is not something everyone uses. I have tried to get physicians to use Google Reader with no luck. Why? It takes time, and an understanding of RSS feeds. It is not difficult, but it is another task for busy physicians who do not want to take the time.

Since my physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals were not ready to devote time to RSS feeds I set-up another way to send them information. I would review items in Google Reader and tag items for different groups. So if I saw a good article on Statins affecting Diabetics then I would tag it to share with Family Practice and the Diabetes Educators. The tags then became their own RSS feeds that I could then load into a newsletter that was emailed to subscribers. I click a button in Google Reader and BAM, a weekly newsletter is automatically generated and emailed to lists of subscribers.

Well not anymore!

All of the work I did setting up literature alerts is gone. As a solo librarian I do not have time to create customized literature alerts by hand. I’ve spent hours looking for an alternative to Google Reader even exploring using a new browser, or even… gasp… moving to a MAC all because of the recent ‘updates’ or ‘downgrades’ to Google Reader.

I had not blogged about this since I was waiting to present it at MLA and then try to publish it soon… that ship sailed when Google broke the Feed URL’s of tags in Google Reader.

This is how Google Reader looked before:

And this is Google Reader now:

Notice the difference? Besides the addition of white space there are missing features.

A simple click of the button in the old Google Reader changes items from private to public. That click assigned tags and folders public pages which had public RSS feeds. This meant I had a public page for Diabetes news information that I could direct physician’s to, or load to the library website. I could even take the RSS feeds and create a newsletter.

Yes you can still grab the Feed URL of tags and folders by right clicking on the tag and then selecting “view details and statistics”:

Example 1:

Example 2:

Again, just a slight difference in the Feed URL makes all the difference in the world to this solo librarian who is trying to curate over 600 feeds a month and create multiple custom literature alerts without exerting too much effort.

In example #1 the word “public” is missing from the Feed URL. Why? Because before Google made the change I had not clicked to make “libraryshare” “public” on the settings page. This means the feed is still private and there is nothing I can do about it.

This is where people need to dig deeper to see how Google has created a fence of white space. By forcing users to share in Google+ and breaking the Feed URL’s of tags Google Reader no longer works with many third party apps and it is difficult to share items. Google is walling itself off and forcing users to use only Google products and to control the data even the data curated by its users.

Feeling a sense of loss of control? I know I am.


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