Google Reader is one of the best and most widely-used RSS readers on the market. Here's four simple things Google could fix to make it even better.
Don't get me wrong: I love Google Reader, it's one of the most essential tools in my arsenal, it has really handy keyboard shortcuts, and it offers a pretty nifty mobile implementation. Also, most of the things I'm complaining about here are not show-stopper bugs, and some of them could probably be fixed by hand with a bit of AdBlock code to remove on-screen elements I don't like. But they're all little annoyances that Google could fix and make life even sweeter for Reader lovers everywhere who want to stick with the Google-supplied client.
4. The buggy 'keep unread' feature
I personally don't use the 'keep unread' feature at all — items that I figure are worth noting will end up starred. But Google apparently believes I've used it quite regularly. There's two items on my home page that are listed with 'keep unread' status, even though I've never marked them as such, and there seems to be no way of clearing them. (This has been a problem for at least 18 months.
3. Stale news from the Reader team
I can understand that the Reader team wants to promote new features on the front page of the site, and that offering a feed item from its group blog is one way to do that. But when the news item only changes every couple of months, it seems like a waste of screen real estate. Offer an option to turn it off, or perhaps supplement blog posts with useful tips, and it would seem much more relevant.
2. Problems with mobile rendering
On the mobile version of Reader, Google attempts to render articles in a stripped back format better suited to small screens when you click on the 'See original link'. That usually works OK, but occasionally the whole process goes awry and you get this message instead:
Oops. Something didn't work quite right and we are unable to show the page you requested right now. Rest assured, Google engineers are already springing into action to solve the problem.
I realise that the problem with doing this might well be the formatting used by the feed publisher, but Reader could still do a better job. Firstly, it could offer a less twee and inaccurate explanation (I've seen no evidence your engineers are working on the problem at all, and I hate cutesy error messages). Secondly, it could include a button to let you view the non-optimised version. (That button appears on pages that have been successfully rendered, but not with pages that aren't, which seems a careless oversight.)
1. Am I signed in or not?
Like many online services, Reader periodically wants users to sign in and confirm their password. Reader doesn't handle this well though. Let's suppose you try and return to the Home screen (that's G then H for all you keyboard shortcut lovers). If Google has decided your password needs revalidating, this is the message you'll get:
Sometimes, reloading the page will get you to a log-in screen; sometimes you have to log in via a different Google service altogether. "Trying again in a few seconds" never works. All in all, it feels very sloppy and inconsistent.
I understand that for security reasons, Google will want to check your password every so often. But if that's what's happening, take me straight to the log-in screen and tell me that: don't present me with a generic error message and force me to work out I need a sign-in.
So there's some thoughts, Google; how about it?
Got your own ideas on stuff that could be fixed or improved in Reader? We're all ears in the comments.