So, the big news today is about Google’s new release of Google Reader, Google’s stab at the feed aggregator game. I was shocked about how fast the news had spread! I went out to grab a bite, at Taco Bell, got back, and opened up Bloglines to find atleast 20 articles about Google Reader. So I quickly went over to Google Reader to give it a try and I really like it. The look and feel keeps you feeling all googley inside too because the theme fits with all the other services they provide. You know, the blue bars with arial font’s. Now, let me show you how to use it, what you can do, and my opinions about it.

If you have an account with Google already, getting set to use the reader takes no time at all. If you are logged in, just head over to Google Reader and you can start subscribing all ready. No additional registrations or anything. Once you are in, you will see a simple structured design with the usual blue that Google uses, a search bar and navigation at the top, and then a two-column structure for your reading. To get an idea, I quickly subscribed to my own feed. To do this, you go to “Your Subscriptions” and then click on “Add a Feed” in the blue area. You will then get a field that you fill in the feed address along with two buttons, “Preview” and “Cancel.” Click on “Preview” and then you will see the feed. On the top right you will see a button to subscribe. Just click it and you will be set (it didn’t appear to give a message or anything when doing this, not even a loading… atleast for me.) My only problem here is that, I am confident I wanted to subscribe to that feed, so why make me preview it before subscribing?

Now, if you are still in the preview area, you will see the left column filled with posts and the right column with the selected post from the left. Now, of course Google had to go and add something really eye catching to the reader, so you will notice when selecting a post from the left column, it will slide the extended bar down and focus on the selected post. Yes, I had played with this for a good few minutes. It’s quite fun. So, now I am subscribed to one feed, but now I want to get all my feeds from Bloglines into the reader as well. Thankfully, Google has covered this as well.

Go to “Your Subscriptions” and select “Add a Feed” again. You will see a few links below the text field saying that you can import and export your feeds using OPML. Excellent. I already had exported my OPML list from bloglines a while back, so I was set. I imported my OPML and then waited for a minute. After waiting for a minute, I started to get a little impatient and realized it may take a while. But, being the impatient made me click on another section of the Reader. I noticed that it still said it was importing. So, guess what? You can do other things while it is importing! I was reading the feeds that it had imported already and kept checking back on the progress. After about 5 minutes, all of them were in and I was all set. The only problem I had was the fact that I realized it was an old Bloglines OPML that I imported and my list has definitely changed.

One thing that you notice when using the reader is that Google has stuck with labels again, which is great. Your subscriptions are put into labels, and surprisingly imported very will with the bloglines folders (I often have problems with this on other readers). You also have the ability to label each and every item that you read. To label your feeds, you simply select a feed from your subscribed list and click edit. It will then have a field in that you can give a label to it. But how about labeling posts? This is very easy as well. It looks like the above screenshot. Located at the bottom of a post, you will see, “Author’s Labels.” Now this is slick. It actually grabs the categories that the author used when posting the entry. Now, lets add our own labels. You will see that you already have one, depending on the label that the feed itself is in. You can click on edit and fill in your own labels, each seperated by a comma. When you save it, they will turn into links. You can now click on them and see all posts that you have labeled, or if you prefer, tagged. Excellent.

The next thing that I absolutely loved was the “Read Items” section. Yes, that’s right, you can even view all the items that you have read in the reader. Wow, this is great because I cannot tell you how many times I have lost items in Bloglines. Now, if I read one, I can now easily get back to it by going to this section or viewing the labels. Absolutely love this.

Now, you know how in Gmail you can star items? Well, you could do that in Google Reader also! I like to keep track of items in Bloglines, but it is fairly hard to save keep organized with them because the method of doing this is marking the items as a new item. But with starring in Google Reader, I can just click on the yellow star and then go to the “Starred Items” section and get an overview of everything I have starred. This is definitely a big plus on my side.

Now a few last notes. Browsing your subscriptions is very simple. But to make it even simpler, Google has provided you with keyboard shortcuts (j – next, k – prev, n – page down, p – page up, h – top, r – refresh, s – star). The keys feel a little awkward, but they do work. I would have been more comfortable with a, w-a-s-d, setup though. When I was testing, Google Reader was fairly slow. But, I am assuming that this was because the swamp of traffic hitting the reader right now.

Overall, I love it. I was very shocked at first because I had no clue about this being released. The one thing that I have left to test is how fast Google Reader picks up new posts. I will find out soon!

Update: I had not realized at the time, but it looks like the search in the reader is actually meant for searching feeds to subscribe to! It makes it extremely easy to view, subscribe, and even add lables to. The results look like the following:

The search seems to be fairly accurate and it definitely is a great way to find new feeds to subscribe to. When clicking on a result, it will open it in the view for reading your feeds, making it very easy to view and make a decision before subscribing.

Update: There are a few annoyances that I am having dealing with not being able to Read All and not having an easy way to mass unsubscribe to a list of feeds. Hopefully they will add this functionality soon because I use these quite often.

View Google Reader.


7 Comments on “Google Reader Reviewed”

  1. Geof Harries says:

    I wish they’d clearly state it is not compatible with Safari – there’s no messages, alerts or warnings that something is not going right when importing OPML subscriptions.

    Also, Reader does not seem to like OPML subscriptions with groups intact. It needs to be a flat file to be imported, apparently.

  2. Brian Benzinger says:

    Hm, interesting. Are you sure? I just went over to a mac to give it a try and it seemed to work fine for me in Safari. Anyone else having problems?

    Thanks Geof for the comment. I hope we can find out if this is an issue with certain versions of Safari or what for you. Thanks again.

  3. pointers says:

    Greader was having some bandwidth problems for the first few hours as it spread (Slashdot, del.icio.us etc) I’ve tried it using FF, IE and Safari with no problems, other than it not importing OPML with Safari and crashing FF (1.5b) but worked ok with IE.

    Hopefully this can be integrated with gmail eventually, with a more rounded UI. Esp, being to add apply labels using tick boxes like in gmail, rather than having to indivually edit each one.

  4. Brian Benzinger says:

    Pointers, excellent ideas. I would love the idea of labeling multiple with checkboxes and that would definitely be really cool to see some kind of Gmail integration.

    And thanks for the Browser info!

  5. Figo says:

    Here’s a tip from your slightly intelligent readership: saying “cool”, and “awsome” and “slick” about reviewed applications adds nothing to the review, nothing to our knowledge about the application itself, and very little to my inclination to read you again. what I want to know is this: 1) is the application useful? 2) does it solve a real problem in an innovative way? 3) what is its value added? all these are always relevant questions when you review new tools (web 2.0 or not), and is especially true for google apps, which aside from the major hype factor, have proven lately to be less than fully featured apps in their respective domains. as for greader, I find it un-intuitive and somewhat difficult to use, but that’s maybe because I haven’t given it enough time.

  6. Brian Benzinger says:

    Figo, thank you for your comment and suggestions. My review was primarily about how to get going and how to use it. I’ll be sure to answer questions such as the ones you have listed in future reviews.

    Thanks for you comments

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