Four Tweaks We'd Like To See In Google Reader

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?

If you're a newcomer to the world of Reader and RSS generally, check out our beginner's guide. If you're overwhelmed by too many feeds, learn how to declutter your Reader inbox.

Got your own ideas on stuff that could be fixed or improved in Reader? We're all ears in the comments.


Comments

    Every point is valid. Google Reader deserves more attention.

    I would like to see Google Apps account support for Google Reader.

      I use reader with my Google Apps account. It is one of the future features that you can sign up for and as long as your admin has enabled it then you can go to reader.google.com (they don't give you a link on your Google Apps pages for some reason)

        Nice! Thanks!

    I love Google Reader, it's consistantly used throughout the day and I'm always logged in.... Staring at the default template is boring... I much like the new Android Theme for Gmail, having built in ability to change themes would be nice. And totally agree with your points you posted. And even with these annoyances it's still the nest RSS reader out there!

    Please Google give your reader some much needed tender loving care!

    'Starred Items' is exactly the way I deal with "I'll read this later" items -- especially while I'm mobile. The trouble is, I've got an item that's stuck as 'starred', and I'm not the only one..

    Refering to number 2. It does this because it uses Google's Mobilizer, which indexes sites and makes them readable using mobiles. I get this error so much I have to turn it off in all my RSS Reader apps for iOS.

    If Google Reader's interface wasn't so ugly, I wouldn't have to use Feedly.

    Why can't Google put some effort into making its products as pretty as they are functional?

    I want to be able to stay subscribed to feeds that warrant an occasional visit, but not have them clutter my unread list. An option to 'mute' feeds would be great.

      second that!

    Re number 4, I find its not a bug in the 'keep unread' feature that hangs on to a couple of posts forever, its a problem with the feed putting a future date on the item. Check the date of the stuck items, IB its for some date yet to come.

    Adam, i have a 'on hiatus' folder for stuff I want to mute. Every so often I go in and mark everythign read in that folder, otherwise I ignore it.

    I think google needs to implement duplicate deletion in the Reader ASAP.

    I keep getting the same news several time from different feeds, and it makes reading very tedious.

      Not only that, but if you tag an item under multiple headings, it doesn't disappear from all of them when you read it under one of them.

      Keep Unread is a mess. And it's even worse using the HelvetiReader Chrome addin.

      This is pretty much the One Big Feature that google reader lacks for me. At the moment, I try to ignore feeds that have too much crossover, as well as the 'people I follow' who tend to repost what I already follow.

      As for the problems in the article, I haven't experienced problems 4 and 3 so much - I always pull up my browsing session from where I left off, so work is reading my work-tagged feeds and the home computer is reading the home-tagged ones.

      2 - I have a problem with the whole mobile-reader interface. It does work on the run, it works just fine for everything, but they've shown what they can do for mobile interfaces with google.reader.com/i.

      1 - I agree. I often do something stupid like sign out of gmail in one tab, and keep reader open in the other. I'll scroll to the end of the pre-loaded feeds before I realise, and have to skip past them later on.

    In the last week or so, Reader has started logging me out about every half-hour. Has anyone else noticed this?

    Also, when I use mobile reader, I can't read my webcomics, because if the image is wider than the screen, it doesn't render in such a way as to get the browser to have a horizontal scroll bar. It's very annoying.

    Why can't I add/remove stars at the moment anyway, as well as that left click scrolls to the next article, it doesn't acutally open anything I click on.

    4. Just untick Keep Unread and it will go away.
    3. I have never seen Google news ... where do you see this?
    2. Fair call
    1. I have never experienced this.

      Actually let me review those again.

      4. In settings I have "Scroll tracking
      In expanded view, mark items as read when you scroll past them." unticked and I always view as a list, rather than the full view. No bugs for me with these settings.

      3. In settings just change your Start page to "all items" or whatever you want to see. I totally forgot about the home screen.

      2.

      Re 4: No it won't. No matter what I do to those items, they persist.
      3. On the front page.
      1. Lucky you :)

    Subfolders, please! I mean, I would love to be able to categorize my feeds into work-play-lifehacker, with work containing subfolders like news, articles, developments etc!

    I'd like a way to filter my feeds using a keyword/search term.

    I know I can do this using other sites, but it'd be great to have it inside reader so I can easily toggle the filter on/off.

    I actually use the keep unread feature. However, I wish you could tag the article unread without scrolling to the bottom of it.

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