New isn’t always improved

The new Google Reader sucks ass. I know, First World Problems. But Google Reader is a staple to a blogger. I keep up to date with current events and commentary (and lolcats) by subscribing to 154 different blogs, and that list is growing every day. I also read those blogs on a netbook. Now that Google Reader devoted a huge part of the page to search bars, buttons, and useless white space, I can barely see the posts I’m trying to read.

But worse, they’ve destroyed the Sharing option. That’s where I’d always get my best reading material from. I had a little network of friends who would work to filter out the gems from blogs I don’t follow. Instead, the replacement forces you to +1 something, and then select which circles you want to share it with.

This would be theoretically fine if 1. the user interface actually worked well and 2. shared posts appeared in Google Reader. But neither of these things are true. When you +1 something, you have to hover your cursor around and/or reclick with the hopes that you’ll get the option to share. And if you’re on a laptop with a tiny screen, this pop up will take up the whole page, have half of its options hidden, and awkwardly scroll away as you try to read it. And your shared items will just show up as a link in your Google+ stream. You actually have to click to see the article in question, instead of conveniently reading and commenting on it while you’re reading all of your other blogs. The whole point of sharing in Google Reader is so you don’t have to click anything else. So it’s really no different than a “Share on facebook” button, which is what I would prefer to click because no one I know uses Google+ anyway.

Google can save this by:

1. Reducing all the useless white space, or at least making it permanently minimizable for those of us with tiny screens.

2. Having a link on left sidebar that lets you see all posts from a circle of people you want to follow, or from people who have shared with circles that contain you.

Also, it’s ugly.

Boo, hiss, change is scary, etc.


  1. Eric RoM says

    Ha, I was just reading today, in the dead tree newz, how Google was so proud of their new, global interface initiative. The above does not bode well.

  2. Danny Fritz says

    You know if you press ‘f’ on the keyboard Google Reader goes full screen.
    You can press ‘?’ to see the other keyboard commands available.

  3. Jon R says

    This is just another example of the attitude (increasingly common in Google’s products) that serving 80% of the masses is enough, so they just strive to meet the common use cases. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten that even those masses sometimes use uncommon use cases. And, of course, those masses came to Google in the first place because their techier friends recommended it. What happens when they start recommending something else?

  4. Icaarus says

    Never did like google’s interface, either old or new, but it is a good sync service for newsrack and online access when I am suffering from laptop separation anxiety.

  5. Kathryn says

    It is terrible (and pretty ugly, as you point out). What I really don’t like is that from what I can tell I have to publicly 1+ a post to be able to share it, which can be seen on my profile, no matter what circles I choose to share it with.

  6. says

    …It’s a shitty redesign if I have to do one more thing I’ve never done before…every time I use the site. Especially since I like hopping between all of my subcategories, so the full screen mode is still shitty for me.

  7. says

    I would say “give it time,” as I usually do when a new Facebook design rolls out, but not this time. This is pretty transparently bad. It matches the look of the other recent redesigns in a superficial way, but not in a deep way; it’s harder to use, not easier.

    Not that the original Reader design was any good, really. I don’t use Google Reader on the Web very much. To the greatest extent possible, I use Reeder on my iPhone and iPad. They have a Mac app as well. There are other apps out there as well that just use Google Reader as the syncing back-end, and in general they are more pleasant to use. Reeder was well worth the $4.99 or whatever it was, even having to pay that once each for the iPhone/iPod Touch versions and the iPad version.

    I am not affiliated with the developers of Reeder in any way, just an example of something I like to use that blows the web interface for Google Reader out of the water. Net News Wire is another popular RSS reader app that can sync with Google Reader.

    As for sharing, I think we are all up shit creek; I didn’t use it, and apparently neither did most people. I don’t think Google will bring it back.

  8. Ryan says

    I agree with the huge amount of wasted space. All I want is the actual articles, and the little bar at the top that tells me how many new articles I have. And maybe that sidebar list that says which blogs have new articles, but since I’m at 100+ blogs it’s usually scrolled past useful.

  9. Larry says

    I deal with the reader interface by not so far. I use desktop clients with Reader as the backend sync portion. I mainly use Reeder on the mac and ipad for this. Of course I am nervous now that they will close down the api for this. Reader is going to suffer because they will try and pull it into their grand strategy to go after facebook/microsoft/apple.

    Might be time to find an alternative.

  10. Jesse says

    You can subscribe to anyone’s public feed on Google+ by copy/pasting their profile URL into Reader. It’s almost the same as it was before – you see everything they have shared via reader, plus stuff they have shared directly through Google+. It’s not exactly ideal, but it’s a much easier transition.

  11. says

    That’s a terrible solution. Many of my friends don’t have public feeds for privacy reasons. I don’t because I don’t want my nearly 3000 random followers – blog readers – to be seeing posts I want to privately share with friends. I’m not sure why you would go and make something even more complicated.

  12. eean says

    …so the fact that google reader is having its functionality slashed in favor of more google+ integration makes you think “google+ is going away soon”???

  13. eean says

    well the ‘why’ is easy, they want you to use google+. And it’s not totally cynical on their part: for a new user, all these not-really-integrated google products are rather confusing. I know I don’t understand why my google+ profile has a rather pointless buzz tab, I sort of doubt Google does either.

  14. Midnight Rambler says

    I would say “give it time,” as I usually do when a new Facebook design rolls out

    Are you saying you actually like the changes that FB makes? Granted, I’ve only been on it for about a year, but every change they’ve made since then has made it more annoying.

  15. EvilKiru says

    I always read in the All Items view in Reader, so the ugliness of the new Home page doesn’t bother me in the least, but the loss of the in-Reader Share button really hurts.

    Unfortunately, this is the kind of crap that happens when the CEO dictates that everything shall partake of Google+ or you needn’t bother coming back to work tomorrow and your bonus depends on the level of Google+ participation in your product.

    What this also means is that the door is wide open for someone else to introduce a competitive in-browser RSS reader, something that was unthinkable until Google pulled this gaffe.

  16. Midnight Rambler says

    It seems like pretty every change made to a website or piece of software since about 2003 or so has been to make it slower, take up more space, more difficult to read or use, require more input/mouseclicks/whatever, adding more distractions, etc. Not just one or two, but all of the above. WTF is wrong with these people?

  17. says

    You’re complaining about white space, but from the perspective of someone with no interest in sharing items, the sharing option was itself a nuisance and waste of space. I couldn’t even minimize it in the sidebar. And people kept on subscribing to my (empty) shared items feed for some reason.

    Other than breaking the sharing option, I’m not sure what the update changed. They made switching between all/unread require two clicks instead of one. …Why?

  18. Scot says

    I used Reader sharing in much the same way as you, Jen. For years, my Reader friends have been a major source of interesting, curated information from new sources.

    We aren’t just going to move to G+. In addition the the privacy issues, there are access problems. G+ is blocked in many workplaces, including mine. Reader has been allowed everywhere I’ve ever been. No access from work means G+ isn’t a viable solution for me.

  19. Ashton says

    154! Wow! Can you post a list sometime of the ones that you follow? It would be interesting to see.

  20. Josh V says

    Wow, this is making me surprisingly sad. I use google reader every day, mostly to read my friend’s shared items. Like you said, they were the gems that you know you could trust… and I’d get 30 of them or so a day and loved them. And this has completely left the new design.

    I… I don’t know what to do with this! I just loved the old system so much – you could see shares and share with friends and it was great, a little culture of its own. Now I am sadfacing.

  21. Ax says

    It’s worse than that. It’s cutting out the least used 20% that includes killer features for 80% of the user base. It can only serve to drive more users to alternative products.

  22. says

    You took the criticisms right out of my fingers. The “share” button is a HUGE part of how and why I use Reader. Now I have to figure out how to coordinate with the people I have built a personal community with specifically on Reader about how we’re going to share content with each other now. I suppose I could put them all in their own G+ circle, but that requires yet another tab open to actually *see* what they’ve shared and more system resources devoted to a single task. Fail. Fail. Fail.

    If Google wanted to integrate Reader with G+, the better approach would have been to go the other direction by duplicating your shared content on your G+ feed (public/all circles if your shares are public, friends only if they’re not…or some similar default behavior) while also keeping it in Reader.

  23. Mark Hanna says

    If you’re familiar with the names of your subcategories, you can switch between them with the keyboard as well – [G]o, [T]ag, type the name of the folder (enter to select). You can go straight to a certain subscription via [G]o, s[U]bscription, then type the name of the subscription.

    I agree with you about the redesign – everything’s too spread out and removing the ability to share takes away a massive reason to use Reader. If they want to integrate it with Google+, they should have tried to do so seamlessly, as I’m sure they could have.

  24. Dave says

    For what it’s worth, a dissenting opinion: I never used the in-reader sharing features. I found they were a waste of space (I could never make them go away), and I often found myself why people were subscribing when I wasn’t even sharing anything.

    I like the new, simpler navigation bar, though I agree the padding and the bar along the top do waste space. One nice thing that Google could do would be to offer the same whitespace options that they have on the new Google Docs (Comfortable, Cozy, Compact). I must admit I spent a few hopeful minutes looking for them on Reader today.

    I do use Google+, and I’m happy to have an easy way to share things there. So, for me, the changes are a big improvement on balance.

    That said, I think that the criticisms pointed out above are valid: you shouldn’t need to publicly +1 something in order to share it with particular circles, and you should be able to see non-public items from other people right in Reader. Ideally, you’d be able to select one or more circles and follow everyone in them in Reader, seeing all their posts that would be visible to you on G+. If Google addressed these two concerns, I think they’d satisfy most existing users.

    Jen, the Reader team said they are looking for feedback. Have you tweeted this post @googlereader?

  25. Keaton says

    That’s definitely not true for some of the early changes made to FB. Of course every single one was complained about by somebody…

  26. Keaton says

    I dunno, maybe I’m not using Reader as much as everybody here, but while I think that the new look can definitely be optimized, I don’t really think it’s so bad. I’ve never used the share feature, and I do use G+, and I appreciate the more direct route to sharing on there.

    And oh yeah, Google Reader is FREE. If you want to send them constructive feedback, then by all means do so. If the changes they made are so egregious that you can’t look at it anymore, then move on to something else. But really, complaining about something this trivial?

  27. Azkyroth says

    Ah, yes, Computer Science. And more generally, IT.

    How very kind of society to create a safety net for people who just cannot get “don’t fix what ain’t broken” through their thick fucking skulls. >.>

  28. javiercardona says

    It might be a bit too ironic, but this is the first post I’d +1’d since the change. :P

  29. Michael Fisher says

    To remove some of the wasted space if you’re using Firefox

    ** Install the Greasemonkey extension. It allows you add user scripts to any Web page to change its behaviour
    ** Restart
    ** Install the Google Reader Absolutely Customizable user script from
    ** Restart
    ** In the Google Reader sidebar click the down chevron that’s to the right of the word “Subscriptions” & a dropdown menu appears
    ** Click on “customize” at the bottom & a dialog box pops up
    ** Uncheck all the boxes except “Top navigation area” & “Explore option”
    ** You can also change the width of the sidebar in the same dialog

  30. Michael Fisher says

    I may easily have misunderstood, but why don’t the people who share interesting links with you just send it to a webpage that you have set up for the purpose? If you have that page in your Google Reader subscriptions you will then see what they have sent immediately

    You (& your friends) just have to set up a “send To” link in Google Reader to the nominated location.

    ** Set up a webpage for everyone to share to & from
    ** In the Google Reader sidebar click the down chevron that’s to the right of the word “Subscriptions” & a dropdown menu appears
    ** Click on “Manage subscriptions” & you’re taken to the “Settings” page
    ** Click on the “Send to” tab
    ** Set up the “Send To” link [see bottom of page for instructions]
    ** Also while you’re there you can set up “Send To” links for these by checking boxes: Blogger, Delicious, Digg, Facebook, FriendFeed, Instapaper, MySpace, Orkut,, Posterous, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Tumblr or Twitter
    ** Now you can hit the “Send to” button at the bottom of each news item & send it to any of the above locations that you’ve enabled

  31. Michael Fisher says

    Ooops ~ Also leave “condense white space” checked ~ that 3 boxes all together that should be checked

  32. izzyleonard says

    “Rawr, change is bad!”

    Hopefully you will feel a little embarrassed when you find that you have specifically called it out for lacking features that it has.

  33. Michael Fisher says

    BTW Google Reader doesn’t support private feeds that require a username and password to view. Such feeds will appear to be empty or missing if you try to subscribe to them. This includes Gmail feeds. So the trick would seem to be in setting up a page that GR can crawl successfully. So test that GR sees the page before going to the bother of setting up the “Send To” links to it.

  34. Wilson says

    One of the good things to be said about using a desktop application is that you control the version you’re on – you’re not so much at the mercy of someone’s commercial whims.

    Adding to the recommendations – RSSOwl is free, cross-platform, and syncs with Google if you are so inclined. I currently follow about 150 feeds with it.

  35. Godless Heathen says

    Ugh. Agreed. The screen is too large for my browser window, so I can’t even see everything at once.

    Also, what’s with the white space? It just confuses me.

  36. ShavenYak says

    I despise all the extra white space Google is throwing everywhere. It makes sense to have plenty of white space between paragraphs in something I’m reading, but not this much between items in a list. Especially a list of over 100 items, the bottom of which I eventually want to reach.

    Sharing I won’t miss so much. I’m actually fine with Google pushing people to Google+, because I’m hoping that once it becomes a serious threat to Facebook, the competition will make them both quit doing stupid stuff for fear of losing users.

  37. says

    If you happen to be using a Mac, I’ll second the recommendation of Reeder — it’s an excellent app, and makes better use of the screen. Of course, it can’t make the sharing magically come back.


  38. Eric RoM says

    That’s the same thing Apple does with the Mac, which is why I hate that fucking UI with a fiery passion.

  39. P Smith says

    Too many businesses and people mistakenly think that change is more important than improvement. They’d rather be seen as being active than doing something right.

    Without intending it as a plug, I visit weather underground for my info. About a year ago, they changed their interface to look like fecesbook, a blank white/blue/grey scheme and a poor layout of information. Fortunately, they left the old (“classic”) format, so at least people have a choice.



    Google, like many others, “thinks” it should force change on users whether they like it or not. A couple of years ago, they implemented the “fade in” for menu options, which was annoying to anyone who wanted those menus first. The only way to avoid that was to turn off java for the page, but turning it off meant other functions wouldn’t work because they required java.

    If website companies are going to make changes, it would be nice if they had the brains and courtesy to give people the choice to stick with the old system. It won’t kill the company, it will probably use less bandwidth, and it’s proven to work. Why shouldn’t people be allowed to use it?


  40. briandurden says

    I gotta disagree somewhat. If you’re not on Google+, you are doing yourself a GROSS disservice regarding the amount of progressive atheists, feminists, and science geeks that are using the service. I get so many links and articles on google+, especially up to date info about the OWS movement.

    I’ve been wanting a way to share reader posts with google+, especially some of Jen’s posts. Though I wish they’d have just changed the Like to +1 and added an option to the Share feature where someone could share it to google+ if they wanted. Not perfect.

  41. angelrivera says

    Noticed the same issues you are noticing. In my case, they pissed me off even more by implementing the change right in the middle of my feed reading session. One moment it was there, the next I get the clusterfuck. Hell, it looked so bad I just thought their code was not loading up right or some other issue. So, this is the new thing? I am not impressed. It does suck.

    Hell, at this point, I would not mind finding a feed reader alternative. Anyone know of one, let me know. As for G+, not impressed on that either (and let’s not start on the privacy issues).

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  42. Mike S says

    There are already plenty of voices of opposition here- but I just wanted to be counted. I, too, came to rely on Google Reader’s old interface and sharing options. The only thing I can imagine happened to make the new Reader look the way it does is someone copy-pasted the unifying template into the Reader code and walked away without testing it. As many others have already said in the web today, it appears to have been built by someone who either doesn’t use it read anything, or just doesn’t care. The result is awful. I’ve exported my feed list to Opera Mail and am sorely missing the social features already. And Halloween is over. What a poopy day.

  43. StevePr says

    It seems like some nong at google read a style guide that said white space and a large font is a good thing and then thought well lets double that.

    Certainly ensured I’ll never be able to use Reader on a mobile again.

    They can push me to Google- all they want but if I can resist the blandishment of Facebook I can resist Goggle-

  44. anonymous says

    I just wanna say, why are suck a$$, a$$hole, pr***, c*** and all those other body parts or references to body parts supposed to be bad? Why use them as insults at all?

    Doesn’t that just make it more likely that we will continue to treat our bodies as if there is something wrong and/or sinful about them?

    Seriously. Name one bodypart used as an insult that you would happily do without… not even forever, just, say, for a few months.

    I **kinda** understand the suck a$$ thing, but only because of the risk of tasting waste. In that case, why not just make the waste itself the insult (or the thing you don’t wanna perceive through a sense-organ)? The poor a$$ is just doing very, very valuable work for you. Why would you belittle it? And why would you wanna keep up the body-stigma that has been shown to be so harmful to so many over so long?

    Anyway, all this is off-topic as far as the point of the OP goes, but I just thought it should be said.

  45. Clytia says

    I totally agree. The new gmail I can probably get used to, but the new google reader i hate! Ick, yuck, it’s horrible.

  46. Mr. David M. Beyer says

    I have been holding my ass next to my screen for 30 minutes now and google reader has not sucked my ass. It does, however, bite, so thanks for that.

  47. says

    When I was reading this post yesterday from within my Google Reader I was thinking WTF Jen, this looks the same as it has done for ages. Am I missing something?

    Today I’m thinking WTF Google, seriously?

  48. Letodan says

    I agree completely with you! I hate this new white Google Reader. To me, it’s going back to a time where BBS were the thing to do. It is not attractive to the eye. Everything is black and white… with lots of white like you said. I want an option to change the look or to go back to what it looked like before.

  49. Tomas DeSantiago says

    I actually love the new skins for GReader and Gmail, but I also don’t use tiny ass screen ;)

  50. BJN says

    Love the new Reader’s white space. More readable. And while your blog has a great header, FTB is a really capital F Fugly blogsite. If you want to fix some ugly, this site’s in dire need of help.

  51. says

    A couple of weeks ago, I was a hardcore Google fanboy. But it turns out Google Reader was pretty much the only Google product I used daily (minutely, really). Now that I have abandoned Google Reader for Tiny Tiny RSS, I find I almost never interact with Google anymore.

    The new Google Reader killed my love of Google.

  52. Google Arrogance says

    It’s amazing that after 10 or more years of software advancement, and leaps and bounds in the latest development tools, that the web user interface is no more native-customizable than it was 10 years ago. Oh, except for a couple token “cute” or “cozy” “options.” And I’m not talking about end-user browser tweaks. It’s arrogance period and you WILL like our interface or go elsewhere. Just absurd.

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