June 23, 2006
Google Reader test drive
Posted by Arcane Gazebo at June 23, 2006 2:43 PM
I'm trying out Google Reader after having used Sage for a while now. I like reading blogs by RSS but I have a strict list of requirements for an RSS reader:
- It must run in Firefox.
That's it. I've tried some standalone programs but I hate switching windows every time I want to read a full post. So for a while it was Sage, which is a Firefox extension that sits in the sidebar, but Sage has some weird idiosyncracies and annoyances, like occasionally forgetting to check feeds until the cache is cleared (especially BoingBoing's for some reason) or misinterpreting links so that they go to the local hard drive instead of the appropriate web server. At least the Export OPML feature worked, making the switch to Google Reader nearly instantaneous.
I tend to read blogs from different computers depending on whether I am at home or in the lab, so it's actually extremely useful to have a single aggregator I can access from both places. I didn't realize how valuable this was until I tried it. (Bloglines would be the other obvious choice for this, and I'd be curious to know how it compares with Google Reader.) The major downside to this approach is having to wait on the aggregator site to query feeds, as opposed to being able to query them directly and get immediate updates.
A minor complaint about Google Reader: The interface, while clean and simple, is difficult to scan for interesting items. All posts are mixed into one column regardless of their source, while most readers I've used in the past separate them by blog. When I have a lot of updates to read (usually in the morning, since the east coast bloggers have been going for three hours), I'm used to clicking on the blogs I'm most interested in first as a way of sorting through the large quantity of updates. Presumably I could do something with labels to separate out the top tier of blogs I read, but it still feels weird. On the other hand, Google Reader does show the post author prominently—Sage would not display this at all, which was immensely confusing for certain group blogs. (Sometimes I would make a game of guessing which blogger had posted each post.)
A side effect of the switch is that my self-imposed limit on RSS subscriptions has been removed. I used to control my blog reading by not adding so many items that I needed to scroll in the Sage pane to see them all, so the number of blogs I kept up with was limited by the size of my Firefox window. Now my subscription list isn't visible, so I can just keep adding feeds without encountering any psychological barrier (until I wake up Monday morning to 500 unread posts).
Anyway, I think I'll continue using Google Reader for a while, and see how it goes.
I've been using Google Reader for roughly a month now, and before that I was using Bloglines for roughly the same amount of time. Both are mostly satisfactory, though I actually prefer the single, monolithic, interleaved stream of RSS overwhelmtion.
I wholeheartedly agree with you on the value of a single aggregator. Gmail has already become my access-anywhere database of notes and documents, and I expect things to only get better. Wheee~~~
Oh, and one more thing...
"...I hate switching windows every time I want to read a full post..."
Damn straight. Do you realize that your blog is one of the only RSS feeds I subscribe to that doesn't feed the entire article, only the first so-many words? PITA, man.
It doesn't turn into much of a problem, considering how often I check for comments... Ideally, of course, those would be in RSS too. :P
Yeah, I know... Several times I've come close to changing the RSS feed so that it contains the full posts. So far I haven't done this in the hopes that it encourages people to click through and read the comments (and preserves any formatting I apply that may not show up properly in an RSS reader). However, I'm certain that a lot of people just don't bother clicking through, but would read the whole post if it were in the RSS feed. (Especially since my RSS feed appears on Mixed States and on my Livejournal page.) So I'm still debating whether to change it.
When I move the site off of Berkeley's network (which may happen soon or may get put off until next year) I'll go to something that supports RSS for comments.
I still read pages the old-fashioned way. If I don't see anything new, I just move on to the next one (or I go and do work, which is what I should do many of those times).
I'm a fan of google reader... the labels may feel weird, but they are totally the way to go. :)