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March 03, 2008

Four Reasons Why Google Reader Shared Items Suck

As many of you who know me in real life could attest to, I am a fairly hardcore user of Google Reader for all my syndication needs. Until quite recently, I would venture that I was a very satisfied user. The introduction of the Shared Items and Friends, however may just change my mind.

Why all the angst over this supposed new feature, apathetic readers may want to know. Four reasons:

  1. Control is a big thing for me, and especially in the tech arena. I want to tell software what to do; I do not want it doing things for me because some programmer (or worse, some marketing hack) somewhere thought it is what I would want. So, when Shared Items began appearing in my list of unread items, I was a little miffed that I had not enabled the feature. How does Reader know that I would be interested in those items shared by someone on my Contact List (more on this below)? Moreover, why does it assume I would?
  2. Simply because some person on my Contact List found something interesting is by no means a good indicator that I will too. My Contact List in Gmail (which Reader apparently uses) has hundreds of individuals on it, not all of whom are close friends or even acquaintances. And anyway, just because I will occasionally talk to someone online, doesn't mean I care what they read. Sure, there are some friends who I share interests with and whose Shared Items would be of interest. But Reader doesn't allow one to choose, and adds friends via an algorithm that is both unknown, and thus far, not proven itself to be particularly effective.
  3. This one might be a personal issue, but I view my Reader Inbox as a job (much like my Gmail Inbox), and I do not need software creating more work for me than I have created for myself. I do not like having unread items! And especially not ones about shit I do not care about. If I want to tap into someone's Shared Items, I will do it; don't do it for me!
  4. Finally, isn't this what is about? I suppose I can see Google wanting to corner that market too, that does not make it better for us as consumers. First, isn't tied to a feed reader, so anyone share items, and second, by using, I can share with anyone, not just friends as determined by some less-than-stellar algorithm. Reader's Shared Items limit choice under the guise of convenience (easier to share via your feed reader than independently adding to And as we learned from the Microsoft/IE disaster of the 1990s, long term, choice trumps convenience hands down. Is this the beginning of the Web 2.0 version of that debacle? Let's hope not.

Have I been irritated to the point of leaving Google Reader? No. Not yet. But that doesn't mean if this kind of crap continues that I won't be. A feed reader, unlike a web browser, does not induce nearly the amount of inertia; switching for me would be a matter of dumping my feed in OPML and moving on. And that's something that companies in the Web 2.0 era have to realize.


At least you can mute the trolls in your buddy list... you know they're there... you just don't have to listen to them anymore.

This is easy to solve Rohit, just remove all your friends. Or, you can put a little piece of tape on your screen that covers the words "Friends' Shared Items."

Jason, muting buddy list trolls seems harsh. I mean, they are my buddies. But seeing the way things are going, I just might have to.

Winston, removing all my friends is clearly the best solution. I hate people anyway; why pretend anymore?

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