Five Things I Want Fixed In The New Google Reader

Five Things I Want Fixed In The New Google Reader

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.


  • As of yesterday I left Google Reader for FeedDemon (yes, it uses GR for sync, but all in all it’s pretty good). I’ve been on a quest to move away from Google’s services for a while now, and this is just another step in that journey.

  • I actually don’t mind the aesthetics of the new Google Reader, though I’ve been using the G+ preview theme on Gmail for quite a while, so I’m pretty used to it.

    I also previously had the Minimalist for Google Reader extension installed and set up prior to the cut over, so I’m not too sure yet how my current experience of Reader compares to stock.

    The main thing I’m really not enjoying about the new layout is Reader has stopped reliably marking things as read once I’ve scrolled past them. The number of times I’ve had to return to a feed and had to click on an article to get it off my unread list is annoying.

    I don’t hate the enlarged gaps between fields, but it is wasted space. It’d be helpful if Reader rolled out the “Display Density” option too (which became present in Gmail today along with the deployment of the new layout for that platform too).

    • Similar to marking articles off unreliably, I miss scrolling past articles and them ‘greying out.’ It’s harder now to keep track of articles when you’re scrolling past, or coming back to them later. It’s a minor annoyance, but it definitely is missed.

  • I still use GR, but i am a bit annoyed by all the whitespace, that is really the annoying thing for me, because, like you i dont use the sharing features at all.

  • I’m using Google Reader due to a problem in our IT dept at work (they block rss and a number of other things). They can’t block Google as everyone would whine that they couldn’t search for anything.

    Tempted just to go straight to my phone, but having a screen of unread feeds is easier.

    My biggest complaint with Reader only started happening in the last week though. Has anyone else started getting the same rss articles multiple times? In the last couple of days I have had instances where the same story would appear a few times, but this morning was the worst, in Gismodo and Kotaku I was getting 7 or 8 copies of the same article.

    If this is how Reader is dealing with RSS, I’m tempted to move away. Can deal with the layout change (yes there is a fair amount of white space (and there isn’t really any discernable line that marks the start/end of an article)), but other issues are frustrating me.

  • I want them to add a feature to disable a feed without unsubscribing from it. There are feeds I don’t want to have an unread count for but I also don’t want to unsubscribe from them or I’d have to find their RSS urls again.

    Option to go back to no whitespace would also be good. Obviously they don’t put much work in Google Reader this is the first update since forever.

  • A small group of my friends and I used reader as a social tool very extensively. We’re on google+ and facebook too but reader was like social networking for the intelligent. It’s where we would go to discuss news articles, art works, interesting pieces of architecture. There were of course plenty of cat videos but that’s beside the point.

    Reader was, potentially, social networking for the thinking person. My friends and I are greatly saddened.

  • I appreciated the compactness of Reader most of all. I’d get rid of everything except the list of articles, and use the very handy Navigation button to pick which feed to view. Now it’s chock-full of whitespace and I can’t get rid of that DAMN sidebar, which I have to have open anyway thanks to the complete lack of any useful navigation menu!

    I understand that the interface change makes GReader much more usable for slates, but some people still use a mouse and keyboard on a PC monitor!

  • The giant header/space at the top is annoying. But scripts can at least help there.

    Why is the subscribe button so prominent? I don’t think I’ve ever subscribed to a feed through reader. I’ve always used the links from the sites I’m subscribing to. And if you do use the subscribe button, are you doing it enough to need such a big, bright button?

  • I hate how you can’t hide the list of folders on the left. The old Reader you could click on the seperator and have only the articles displayed.

    Unless I just haven’t found the button yet.

  • What surprises me is how differently angus and I use reader, since none of these are a problem for me. I’ve always jumped straight to my tags instead of using the front page, and used j/k and pgup/pgdown to scroll.

    A couple of these aren’t huge problems:
    -There’s a total unread count at the top of the feed list.
    -There’s still a star on the left at the bottom of each post. You can aim your clicking a couple of centimetres further down and get the same result.

    • Same here, almost all the listed problems aren’t experienced by me because I go straight to All Items in List View mode. There I get the total unread count, can continue to use j/k to navigate and get stars on the left. Setting something back to unread seems to work fine – perhaps because it is not trying to mark things as read automatically.

  • The honeycomb google reader app now offers the best rss experience imo.

    The new google reader is ok, it is probably aimed at a wider audience than the old one (although to me it seems rss readers are mainly used by a more technical geeky audience). I can understand why googs have done this though and hopefully this leads to a wider adoption of google reader and rss feeds in general (i still think the interface is superior to using twitter or facebook for articles)

  • I’m GR user since I-don’t-remember, the aesthetics is the last important here because still focus in the reading, for me it’s just a new skin, but the thing really bugs me is sharing feature that is the main reason I love google reader and now it’s gone!, that you have to +1 something for shearing is real $#!%!

    • I’m much the same. The interface is just a new interface, it’s different but it’s clean and tidy and I’ve gotten used to it quickly. I don’t mind too much that sharing is now through G+, but the fact that I have to +1 in order to share seems so stupid to me! Sharing is not a subset of +1, for me it’s the other way around.

  • thanks for the keyboard shortcut hints (f and u) they should have had that as buttons on the screen, but I’ll try to remember them now that the whitespace has gotten ridiculous.

  • perhaps because I never actually visit the ‘Home’ page anyway so most of your point aren’t valid to me…

    about the star if you using keyboard to scroll it is very likely that you would use keyboard to toggle star too so why bother?

    only thing I hate is it’s left justified instead of centered

  • I’m also not a fan of the new GR. I normally use it from the All Items view and sometimes the right hand column doesn’t load, even with repeated clicking on ‘All Items’ in the sidebar. I have to either reload the page (which still doesn’t always work) or select one of the Subscriptions to see anything.

  • I am not that impressed with Google Reader and the new look Gmail. The interfaces are like looking at very early web interfaces. Basic and flat. In Reader the biggest bug I have is sometimes I can not access all my unreads. It seems to freeze on the Home tab and not allow me the ability to actually read any new stories. In the end, I have to click individual feeds.

    Sure like facebook found, people wont always like change but I think that Google has to bring back some of the life and texture to Reader and the other Google products.

    Is it a deal breaker… no but it makes me think about using Thunderbird and Sunbird more than the web interface.

  • I am so disappointed with the downgrade to Reader’s interface and the crippling of the share functionality. To the point of me reassessing my faith in google’s products and my reliance on them. The impression Google seems to be giving at the moment is: “if you don’t like it – tough luck”.

    I’ve been tweaking the new Reader UI to make it more readable, as have many other people. My user style can be found here:

    • Thanks, Maddercarmine. I tried some replacement RSS apps, and nothing did what I wanted. Your script makes life more palatable, especially the freaking RED SUBSCRIBE button.

  • I used the share features all the time – share w/ people on google reader and found great feeds back from them. I used ifttt so that if I clicked like, it would share on my Facebook. I have a g+ account, and I dislike it. Why on earth would I want to share anything there?

    This isn’t a matter of its different and scary, it’s a matter of ‘you took away everything I actually used’.

  • The interface is too white, but that’s not a huge problem.

    I used the sharing feature daily. More as a personal reference than anything else. But Google seems to have built Google+ as a sharing foundation for all their other services to plug into. With that in mind, why would they duplicate the sharing system with Reader’s sharing function. In saying this I do miss the sharing function.
    To retain Readers’ sharing functionality, I just create a ‘shared from reader’ or a ‘shared news’ circle in Google+. Then share all the stuff that’s interesting to that. If I have any friends who want to share my news, they’re just added to my shared news circle.

    If Google+ is not your cup of tea then just use the send to feature and share wherever you like.

    For those not wanting a public +1 from their shares, just select the link in reader then place your cursor in the share box in the Google floating nav bar.

  • For me, a major broken feature is sharing and notes the latter being most important. I’ve extensively used my shared and noted items as a commented list of precious pieces of knowledge carefully distilled from a vast stream of news I get every day.
    With one click I could access this articles, read my commentary and seek for tools I need at the time.
    Now, it;s all lost.
    I’m not (and not going to become) a g+ user only to be able to share items in RSS reader.
    What Google calls integration looks more like and attempt to increase Google+ userbase.

  • I find it odd that I’m viewing Google Reader using Google Chrome which has done everything possible to maximise the amount of my screen available to view content and now Google Reader is chewing it all up again with unnecessary white space. Is there no communication of design philosophy between areas of the company?

  • Item counts previously listed in status bar at bottom right of screen is missing. I don’t mind the removal of the status bar to clean interface but that count should easily be fit into the top actions bar.

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