Google Reader

I’ve been using Google reader exclusively for about a week. It hasn’t always been easy. I loved Onfolio, but I didn’t see any progress being made on it, and Microsoft didn’t have any blogs for it, and emails sent in for suggestions/comments etc went unanswered. So I got the feeling Onfolio was a dead product (someone please prove it isn’t!).

I had way to much time invested in Onfolio already to invest more, when I was unsure of it’s future. So I regretfully abandoned it and with trepidation, moved to a web-based alternative.

I tried Google Reader on Robert Scoble’s suggestion – and for the most part, it is OK.

And that is exactly the problem with it. It is just OK. It isn’t a killer app, and doesn’t even offer a killer feature. It just (mostly) works.

Mostly I just tolerate it. And that isn’t praise – it’s actually odd. I do not like the application, but I am still using it. Why? Too painful of a migration? No, OPML solves that. It took me 5 minutes to move from Onfolio to Google Reader.

So why still with Google Reader? I suppose there are a lot of reasons, but probably the primary one is, I have every reason to believe it will get better.

Quite simply, Microsoft bought Onfolio, and Onfolio appears (to me) to be dead. Google Reader has active blogging by the development team. I know there are people out there working on Reader. I think they are even listening to me, and people like me. I think they are learning, just as we are – what a feed reader needs to “feel like” in a browser.

Honestly, it needs to “feel” like Onfolio – like an application with lots of possibilities instead of a browser with few capabilities. And unlike a lot of applications being mimicked in a browser, a feed reader is actually a (relatively) simple thing to emulate. It’s not an editor, or a paint program, or video – it’s a simple display platform for web content delivered via syndication. It’s text, pictures, perhaps video and attachments. But it’s also a “read” application, not a “read/write” application. Having a very limited set of potential user input (shortcut keystrokes, etc), the designers of a web based feed reader soul be focusing completely on three things:

1. Stability

2. Compatibility (with every browser platform)

3. GUI – the user experience

Google Reader does quite well on #2, but so far just “ok” on number one. Number three is the big loser – the site just doesn’t take advantage of the rich environment they COULD build for users. In this case, I don’t think “minimalist Google” is appropriate.

I also don’t think they have come anywhere close to what they will eventually offer – streams of information fed to you that you really want to see – because they will know almost exactly what interests you – from your previous reading habits, perhaps your GMail, Google Searches, etc. And you won’t even mind the ads much, because it’s just easier to find what you want on Google Reader than anywhere else on the web.

Microsoft doesn’t offer a web-based reader. I bet that doesn’t last through the end of the year. There is to much face-time with this audience, and to much data about customers likes and dislikes for any company in the search business to ignore.

Face it – the metrics on the web are at the beginning of a change – instead of measuring how many customers are subscribed to a given feed, we’ll be measuring how many minutes readers spend on each entry of each given blog entry. Talk about targeted advertising – we haven’t seen anything yet.

Years ago my father told me that you can learn a lot about a man based on the books in his house. And anyone with a web-based reader will certainly know what “books” we are reading.