Thank Heavens! Google has totally redesigned its RSS feed reader. The old interface was a disaster: hideous, confusing and non-intuitive. I suspect that many users who were new to RSS feeds have given up on the technology forever as a result.
Having got that whinge out of the way how does the new reader compare with what is already out there? For starters, the default display will now be familiar to existing RSS junkies like me. The left hand side of the screen lists your feeds, and in folders if you have decided to organise them in that way. The individual items are displayed in the central area of the screen, and there is a tips and tricks box on the right hand side of the “Home” page.
Google Reader now allows you to view just new items, all items in a single list, all items by folder or items by individual feed. For me, a variety of viewing options is essential. I need to view individual, priority feeds as soon as I fire up my reader in the morning but I am then quite happy to scan through all the UK news feeds, for example, as one long “folder” list. The only serious gripe I have with the display of the items and feeds is that Google Reader does not include the feeds own icons. It may seem a minor point but it is a quick way of identifying the feed source when scanning through a combined list of all your new items. One point to watch is that the default in Expanded View is to mark items read as you scroll through them. This is a feature that I find extremely irritating but is easily put right by going to Settings, Preferences.
There are two ‘views’ for items: Expanded View gives you the title, source and as much of the article that the publisher has decided to include in the item. The List View gives you the title, the first few words of the article and the date in just one line. To view the original or source document just click on the title or the double chevron next to the title.
For each item you can Star, Share, Email, Mark as read and Edit tags. When I tried these out only the Email and Mark as read options worked: the others gave an “error has occurred message”. But it is early days with the new interface so hopefully these glitches will be addressed soon. The email option defaulted to my Googlemail account so there could be a problem if you want to send headlines or stories to colleagues and clients using your corporate email account. Other web based readers such as Newsgator use your default email reader. Also, you cannot send more than one headline or item per email – a failing with many web based RSS readers. Another notable omission is that you cannot keyword search your feeds or set up alerts, again a non-feature of most web based readers.
You can easily import and export your existing list of feeds and adding a subscription is straightforward. Google Reader, though, does not support user authentication so if you have Factiva feeds, for example, it is back to your PC based reader or Newsgator.com.
Overall, I am impressed. Until now I have been telling RSS newbies who want to just dip a toe in the RSS stream to avoid Google’s reader like the plague. It is still not perfect, and I shall continue to use Omea on my laptop, but I have now added Google Reader to my list of recommended web based readers.
Before the revamp..