Google rolled out a new Google+-inspired interface for Google Reader yesterday, and the reaction so far from long-time users has been, for the most part, deeply unenthusiastic. There’s always an element of “I hate it because it’s new” in any redesign, but there are some specific changes Google has made which I wish it would ditch.
The two most common complaints about the new look are that is has too much whitespace and that it has completely dumped the sharing features from Reader, but neither of those options are on my list. I can’t say I think highly of the new aesthetic, but I suspect in part that’s just because I’m so used to the old version. It’s not great for netbooks, but it’s not dysfunctional.
As for the sharing features, I literally never used them. I can well understand that having them suddenly switched off would be a massive annoyance if you were a regular user, but for me Reader has never been a social experience — it’s about tracking news and noting stuff I need to follow up. (By the same token, I won’t be using the new Google+ sharing options either, I imagine.)
My complaints are a lot more granular. They are also issues which Google could easily fix without having to roll back to the old design. They’re not quite annoying enough to make me contemplate a different feed reader entirely — whenever I’ve tested them in the past, I’ve never found one that covers my needs as well as Reader. But it would be nice to see them adjusted.
I can’t scroll the front page using the arrow keys
This is sloppy, annoying coding (and doubly so given that Google has had similar problems with Gmail in the past). On the old site, the down arrow key would let you scroll down the main page. That doesn’t work anymore. Scrolling works fine on lists of articles from individual feeds, but not here. I didn’t realise how often I did this until it was no longer possible.
The total unread articles count has been buried
When you have unread articles, Google now displays a message saying “A look at what’s new in your Reader”. Why not display the number of unread articles, which is far more useful?
Yes, I know the unread count appears in the tab name — but if you have more than seven or so tabs open, then it also disappears and you can only see it if you mouse over it. Having an unread count clearly on screen would be far more useful to me than inches of white space with a meaningless sentence. To add insult to injury, the one time you do get an article count is when you’ve read everything:
Only one article per site appears on the front page
This arguably makes things more compact, but seeing all the articles from a given feed on the front page often meant that I could quickly scan headlines, then quickly jump to ‘View all’ and mark everything read. Now that’s no longer possible. Between the scrolling issue, the unread count and this, the default front page view for Reader has been rendered essentially useless for me.
Stars have been moved
In the old interface, stars appeared to the left of each headline. Now they appear to the right, which means they’re in a different location for every post, and that means I can’t easily click on them while scrolling down using the keyboard. I suspect I’ll solve this problem by using the ‘s’ shortcut key more, but I still can’t see why the change was needed in the first place.
Broken features are still broken
Despite all this revamping, some of Reader’s underpinnings still seem shaky. Back in 2009, I complained that Google’s “kept unread” listing bore no relation to anything I’d ever done in Reader. That was still the case in 2010, and it’s still the case now. No, it’s not crucial, but it doesn’t inspire confidence.
What else would you modify in Reader? Has the change inspired you to seek a new feed reader? Tell us in the comments.