As a man of habit, I resist all change, especially the change that’s forced on me. So this week I got steamed when one of the tools I rely on to do my work and nourish my brain, Google Reader, got a complete makeover and was pushed onto me whether I wanted it or not.
Which I don’t.
We users had been warned for weeks that a redesign of the popular (and free) RSS reader was in the making, so the appearance of a new version didn’t come as a shock. The only shock was how terrible the new version is. It subverts users’ needs in favor of Google’s. The company wants to fight Facebook with a uniform interface for its free suite of services—which also includes Gmail, Calendar, and Docs—that will encourage sharing of content on its newish social-networking product, Google+. But in making the whole Google product line visually consistent, the company has crippled one of its best offerings.
Seeing as Google doesn’t charge for its RSS reader I can’t complain much more than if a bar serving free beer suddenly switched from Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to Old Milwaukee. But to extend the metaphor, I don’t have to drink Google’s swill unless I want to.
Which I don’t.
I’m not the only user carping about the new Google Reader. Foster Kamer of the New York Observer collated the dissatisfaction yesterday, pointing to the critique blogged by former Google project manager Brian Shih titled “Reader redesign: Terrible decision, or worst decision?” The voices at Wired.com, Information Week, the Atlantic Wire, and Forbes all hammered Google Reader. Among the complaints: Its unique “shared feeds” feature is gone; it loads slower than the old Reader; it’s hopelessly gray; a giant, red, near-useless “Subscribe” button hogs valuable screen real estate; and there’s a lot of noise about how Google has reduced it to an adjunct to Google +. The former lead designer of Google Reader offered yesterday to rejoin the company for the three months it would take to fix his baby, writing:
Reader should not fall by the wayside, a victim to fashion. …
I will put my current projects on hold to ensure that Google Reader keeps its place as the premier news reader, and raises the bar of what a social newsreader can be.