Tuesday, November 01, 2011

An Open Letter to the Google Plus and Reader Teams

Dear Google Plus and Reader Teams,

I've been tracking closely the development of both Plus and Reader; I was excited to try the former and have been a long-time user of the later. Reader has been an important tool in my digital toolset for years; I use it personally to track and read important news and updates from friends' blogs, and I have used it professionally and semiprofessionally as a monitoring tool for blogs, social media, and news.

Like many other Google Reader users I met the announcement of Reader's integration into Plus with some skepticism; at best I was cautiously optimistic. When I finally switched over yesterday I found the new UI different but nothing that would cause any permanent harm; I have suffered through UI and design pages on services beginning with the Prodigy network back in 1990. Although they cause short-term confusion there hasn't been a single instance where I've ceased to use a service because of a UI change. I would prefer something with more color delineation between posts, but you're receiving enough feedback about that from people far more qualified as designers than I am, so I'll leave that be.

The main piece of feedback I have about the new Reader is around its social sharing features. Reader's sharing features were, for myself and many others, a self-selected and silo'd social network. I followed users (offline friends mostly) who actively shared news and other content I found interesting, and would occasionally comment on that content and have conversations with each other. Rarely would these develop into full-blown conversations (and if they did we typically moved to IM), but the information discovery mechanisms of this service were invaluable to me both for professional development and personal enrichment.

I understand how to share content through Reader into Plus; this is not the issue. The frustrating thing about this change is that I no longer have the option to filter content from others in the same silo I had in Reader. This, frankly, was functionality I expected when Plus launched (if you check my account, it's one of my first Plus posts.)

Reader gave me a way to get content from a few people without drinking from the social media firehose of less-relevant updates. I love my friends to death but I don't want to have to filter through 10 pictures of their kids to get to the one news story they found interesting. Facebook doesn't allow for this kind of filtration, and neither did Plus when it launched – which would have been its defining competitive factor. This is the beauty of Reader's old system; if was a filtered network.

In short: rather than cloning Facebook's functionality, I wish Plus had been more like what Reader was in its content filtering.

My recommendation then is twofold:

1. Make a feature in Google Reader where you can automatically create a Plus circle from the people you've followed. This was a basic exporting beat Google completely missed; why should I manually have to recreate a circle of followed friends from one Google product into another? That should have been one click, or done automatically, behind the scenes. Google's value proposition is its platform ubiquity; this was a missed opportunity to demonstrate this is actually the case.

2. Within that circle (or within any circle in Plus) allow me to filter posts from people in that circle to only show +1s from Reader. I love my friends to death but don't want to cruise through a dozen pictures of kids in Halloween costumes to get to important news.

To put this a different way: turn circles into content silos, not just person groups.

In fact, this kind of filtering is what I expected from Plus in the first place. It would be a true differentiator from Facebook's platform, which forces me to filter in reverse, by blocking updates from certain apps like Farmville. Instead, Plus should allow you to filter down, only showing updates from certain apps that I self-select – like Reader, or Twitter, or a photo sharing site.
I will still continue to use Reader for my RSS feeds, and look forward to a Google app that duplicates the closed nature of the network in Reader I had come to appreciate and enjoy – and for which there is now an enormous gap (and opportunity) within the digital landscape.

I have long been an advocate of Google's services and overall value proposition for years. I may be one of the few Wave fans still left in existence. I understand that decisions like this are made at far larger levels than one piece of consumer feedback can ever hope to affect and change, but I certainly appreciate any consideration you'd give to the above recommendations.

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