Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Why the Google Reader Team should spawn a new project

Google Reader has new features. Check `em out:

  • There is a new Notes section which lets you add...notes...to Google Reader. Basically notes that you create act as normal Reader items: you can share them, add a star to them, or e-mail them. They are also permanent, like normal Reader items, which is slightly strange. You might ask, why the heck did they tack a note-taking section on an RSS feed reader when they already have a perfectly fine standalone note-taking app? I'll explain below, but suffice to say the new section can safely be ignored most of the time while still taking advantage of the notes system. Update: There's now a Delete button for unwanted notes.

  • Ever wanted to explain why you shared an item in your reading list (e.g. "Hey look this is so cool!", "I wanna read up on this later", or "I read this idiotic piece of crap and I lol'd", etc.)? You can now do this by clicking on the "Share with note" link next to the Share link. When you "Share with note" an item, you're actually creating a copy of that item (along w/ the tidbit you wrote) and saving that as a note in the Notes section. You're not actually sharing the original item, but the noted copy. This can lead to confusion, but all you really need to know is that your shared items can now be personalized with your own comments and reactions. (You can also "personalize" your shared items list by changing the logo...meh, useless.)

  • There is a bookmarklet that let's you share any page on the web, whether or not it has an RSS feed. "Install" the handy bookmarklet by bookmarking this link (for bookmarklets, it's customary to drag the link to the Bookmarks toolbar to make it more accessible). When you find an interesting web page, just click on the bookmarklet and click on the Post Note button. Optionally, you can add a short description of the web page before sharing it. This is easily done by highlighting some of the page's relevant text before you click on the bookmarklet. You can also put your comments on the page. Once you click on Post Note, it will appear in your Shared Items list as well as your Notes section (but why even visit the Notes section? :D). Update: Here's a tip. If you only want to share an image in a web page, simply highlight that image before clicking on the bookmarklet.
These are great, I'm a bit weirded out by their implementation. For example, since "Share with note" simply creates a copy of an item, you can end up sharing the same content more than once! I'm thinking, why not give up on this "add a note to a post" idea and just create a more intuitive comment system where you and your friends can comment on any shared item, like the way FriendFeed does it?

The bookmarklet for sharing any page also seems badly thought-out. For one thing, it's called "Note in Reader"; what has sharing a web page got to do with note-taking? None! More to the point, what has sharing a web page got to do with RSS feeds (which is what Google Reader should be all about)? Sharing a web page is cool, but it shouldn't be a Google Reader feature. Now, if I were assigned to come up with a better web-sharing solution, I would suggest the following 4-step alternative to the ugly Notes section:
  1. Spawn a new project. Turn Shared Items into its own app, separate from Google Reader. Let this be Google's answer to FriendFeed. The stand-alone Shared Items service would logically work with Google Reader, Blogger, Google Notepad, Google Maps, and...dun dun dun...THE WORLD WIDE WEB! Which leads us to Step 2:
  2. Create a bookmarklet, a Google toolbar button, and a Firefox extension for adding web pages to the new Shared Items. Since Shared Items is now broader in scope, you mark web pages as web pages...not as Google Reader notes. The world is suddenly a saner place.
  3. ???
  4. Profit!*
Speaking of FriendFeed, an interesting observation: it seems that when you "Share as note" in Google Reader, FriendFeed will detect the note and treat it as a comment. Cool!

* Slashdot reference. Don't try to understand it. I write this way when I'm sleepy. Sorry for the confusion. For what it's worth, I prefer my fictional Google Shared Items service to be ad-free.