Despite the increase in the variety of ways you can consume media and learn about news, Google Reader is still the default news reader for many. While you can always find a good desktop RSS reader to suit your needs, many people still prefer the plain old web experience. Just because you prefer the web app doesn't mean you can't overhaul the look and feel though, so let's take a look at some of the best extensions, styles and tweaks you can use to make the experience better.
Overhaul the Visual Interface Any Way You Like It
If you hit up Google Reader every day, then chances are you're a little sick of its design. It works, but it still doesn't have as much stuff as people like (or it has too much, depending on who you ask). Thankfully, you can tweak the interface in countless ways, here are some of our favourites.
Minimise the Interface to a Bare Bones News Reader
If you use Google Reader as an actual newsreader and not to just quickly glance through headlines, then you're likely bothered by the cluttered interface. We've seen quite a few extensions that minimise the interface, but our favourite is the Stylish (Firefox or Chrome) userscript Google Reader Minimal Reader Expanded. Despite its not-minimal name, the script cuts out all the junk in your feeds, so you're offered a clean reading experience that looks more like Instapaper or Readability than Google Reader. Alternetely, if you're on Chrome, Google Reader Readable does the same thing with one simple extension.
Give the Google Reader Web App a Desktop Feel
Perhaps a skin isn't enough for you and you'd prefer a more desktop-like experience. One of the best looking Mac newsreaders, Reeder has received a couple of unofficial ports to browsers. Pure Reader for Firefox and Reeder for Chrome do a good job of emulating the desktop version of Reeder inside your browser window.
If you don't mind leaving the main Google Reader site but still want a web app, Feedly is one of your best bets. It offers up tons of options for how you view your Google Reader feed, including the simple list-based UI you're used to as well as a more stylish, magazine-style layout. Alternately, if you're looking for a more visual way to browser feeds, FeedSquares for Chrome might be more up your alley.
Customise Google Reader Any Way You Want
If the above pre-defined styles aren't your thing, Reader Plus for Chrome allows you to edit, change and alter pretty much everything you could imagine. It's not the most intuitive interface in the world, but if you want to tinker with your own look and feel for Google Reader then Reader Plus is one of the easier tools to use. For Firefox and Chrome users looking for even more depth, the above mentioned Stylish allows you to build your own themes any way you like, but it takes a little more know-how.
Get More Out of Your Feeds with These Extensions and Tweaks
Once you've picked out your favourite style and have a Google Reader skin you're happy with you still have plenty more options for tinkering with the basic functionality. Whether it's setting up notifications or making it easier to subscribe to feeds, here are a few we find really useful.
Get Notifications on Updated Feeds
If you're constantly checking and then rechecking your RSS feeds for updates and wasting precious time, you might be better off setting up a simple notification system for when new feeds trickle in. Both Google Reader Notifier for Chrome and Super Google Reader Greasemonkey Script for Firefox and Super Google Reader for Chrome help display full feeds directly in Google Reader so you can read a full blog post or article without clicking away. Neither works all the time, but they help deliver the full text on most websites.
When those extensions fail to pull a full feed, Google Reader Inline for Chrome is an extension that will load up the full article inline directly in Chrome. We found a few outdated solutions for Firefox, but nothing that was working in the current version, so if you know of an extension with a similar purpose, sound off in the comments.
Subscribe to Feeds Directly From Your Toolbar
If you're still building your RSS feeds and finding a lot of new sites all the time, then you know it takes a couple steps to copy and paste the link into Google Reader. Firefox users don't have this problem since adding a RSS feed is built into Firefox directly, but if you're on Chrome, and you'd prefer a slightly quicker approach, RSS Subscription Extension offers a simple two-click solution for adding whatever site you're currently on to your Google Reader subscriptions.
Cut the Junk Out of Your Feeds but Keep Your Favourite Sites
Sometimes your favourite blogs cover stuff you don't care about, but that doesn't mean you want to ditch them from your reader completely. If you'd prefer to filter out the stuff you don't like, the Google Reader Filter Greasemonkey script and Reader Filter for Chrome allow you to filter out any posts that deal with a specific keyword. This can come in incredibly handy when you've reached the tipping point on Apple rumours, product leaks, or if you're just not that interested in one operating system or another.
With a little elbow grease you can turn the vanilla Google Reader into a powerful web app that rivals its desktop kin. If nothing else, it adds a little personality to your newsreader experience so you feel a bit more at home. If you're looking for a good RSS reader for your desktop or smartphone, be sure to hit up the App Directory for our picks. Of course, countless other extensions and themes exist, so go ahead and share some of your favourites in the comments.