Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Former Google product manager on the trashing of Google Reader

A former Product Manager for Google Reader shares my feelings about Google's act of mass data destruction (emphases mine. I resisted the impulse to use blinking bold fonts the color of arterial blood.) ...
Reader redesign: Terrible decision, or worst decision?
Google released the previously announced set of changes around G+ integration and UI updates today, and boy is it a disaster. Since the general changes were pre-announced last week, most of us were prepared for the letdown, but actually seeing how it works end to end has made several flaws abundantly clear. Let's start with the obvious...
... When you log into Reader, what the hell do you think your primary objective is? Did you answer "stare at a giant header bar with no real estate saved for actual reading"? Congrats, here's your prize:

Reader is a product built to consume information, quickly. We designed it to be very good at that one thing. G+ is an experience built around browsing (similar to Facebook) and socializing. Taking the UI paradigm for G+ and mashing it onto Reader without any apparent regard for the underlying function is awful and it shows.
The only thing left with any color of consequence it the obscenely red subscribe button in the top left, which in keeping with the spirit of prioritizing the exactly wrong thing -- you don't even need to use very often.

Ok, before we get started - let me be very clear about one thing. I think integration with G+ should happen. Reader friends should be managed in the same place you manage G+, with the same metaphors (whether you think they're flawed or not). Sharing should utilize the same infrastructure and plumbing that G+ does. I am not objecting to any of these things. Google has clearly made its bets with G+, and Reader should be part of those plans.
The frustrating thing is that these pitfalls could have been avoided through a more thought out integration. As Kevin Fox has already pointed out, Google could have easily made it so that sharing was pushed through G+ (therefore giving providing content on G+, and gaining all the benefits of an integration), but also replaced shared items from People You Follow with a Reader-specific Circle.
It's almost as if Google wants to demonstrate that, yes, they don't really get platforms. Instead of improving the G+ API to support Reader as a fully functional 3rd party client (a la Twitter), they've instead crippled the product under the guise of improvements.

Google has long neglected Reader as a product. (Hey can someone fix Recommended Items? Please?) Reader was fortunate to have a passionate team that was trying to do the right thing for their users by continuing to innovate and build on the experience, but it's not hard to tell from the official blog that core updates died down a long time ago.
Reader never achieved the massively popular status of Gmail or Google News. But it did develop a fanatical following of users, and was one of the few places that Google was able to experiment with and learn about social features.
After I left Google in July, I heard that there was renewed effort around the project and that a new team was bringing some much-needed attention to the product. I expected them to give the product a facelift, and integrate G+ -- both things that needed to happen.
But killing off functionality that could have easily been built on top of G+, and missing the mark by so much on the UI... and then releasing them under the guise of improvements?...

The comment on "Google doesn't get platforms" is a reference to a famous "we don't get platforms" internal Google rant that was accidentally shared worldwide.

It's just astounding. It as though Google is trying to be a bizarro version of Apple. They're now making some of the mistakes Apple makes, but they've vastly uglier and the mistakes are much bigger. It reminds me of Windows 7 ridiculous imitation of OS X Spotlight replacing the imperfect but superior Windows Search 4 interface. Except this is much worse.

I had all the same reactions as Brian Shih, so I appreciate his doing the posting work for me. Google did need to integrate Reader with G+, but they chose an almost perfectly disastrous route. Their culture is broken.

This Google decision does have an upside. I'm learning Twitter, Posterous, Bing, Firefox ...

PS. Did I mention that the Blogger redesign is almost as bad? Label selection is one bad aspect among many.


MaysonicWrites said...

And the Catch-22: (ignoring for a second the fact that the mobile version of Reader has no Share button, and that, while you can run the Desktop version of Reader on th iPad, it bizarrely disables one-finger scrolling, requiring two-finger trackpad scrolling!) when you do click th Share button, what happens? Nothing. This service is currently unavailable, try again later.

JGF said...

I'm seeing broken bits everywhere. It's amateur week at Google. What a trainwreck.