Why Curated Content Matters: A Lament for Reader Share

GeekMom Technology

Google Reader unveiled big changes this week, and the internet recoiled. Some folks (I’m one of them) loathe the new design: the excessive use of white space at the top of the screen, the heavy black-and-gray palette, the black-underlined links that have replaced the stand-out blue. But far more irritating to many users is the death of Reader’s Shared Items feature.

Screen shot of my new Reader. That gaping hole on the left is where my friends’ Shared Items should be.

If you used Reader Share, you’re probably in mourning today. No longer can you click the share button at the bottom of a post in your Reader, sending it to a sidebar widget on your blog and popping it into the “people you follow” section of your friends on Reader. No longer can you count on that easy click in Reader to show you the links shared by the people you follow–those trusted curators of content whose taste and judgment you rely on.

Sure, those folks can continue sharing the best of the internet with you via other means. Google is hoping they’ll share to Google+ instead, and there’s a button at the bottom of every Reader post to make it easy for you. But even if you’re a G+ enthusiast like I am, share-to-Plus is no substitute for Reader Share. Here’s why: Let’s say you read a great blog post and you share it to Google+. I follow you on G+, so I’m sure to see this post you’ve shared, right? Well, no, not if I don’t happen to be looking when it hits my stream. If I miss it, it’ll whisk on by. The current there is swift.

Same goes for sharing links on Twitter or Facebook. These platforms are terrific for sharing information with a broad audience all at once, but they’re like live-music festivals. You’re there in the crowd, you soak up what’s being broadcast through the sound system, you revel in the moment, and it’s wonderful. But sometimes you want to go to your shelf (or your iTunes, whatever) and pick out an album by an artist you know will move you and make you think. Good content curators are like that. Boing Boing, for example, became a force to reckon with because its founders were, from the very beginning, excellent at picking out what is noteworthy on the vast internet. Mental Multivitamin is one of my favorite curators: she reads, she thinks, she shares–I learn.

Google’s shift from Reader Share to Google+ seems part of a larger push toward stream content, away from curated content you can subscribe to. Last week, Felicia Day wrote a post on G+ about her frustration with websites that have abandoned RSS feeds in favor of streaming platforms like Twitter.

RSS is a way to consume a LOT of information very quickly, and STORE it in nice categories if you miss it. So I can catch up with a small blog’s output at the end of the week and, if I so choose, read EVERY article easily in one sitting. You think on Friday I’m gonna go browse that same site’s Twitter feed on their page (digging through all the messy @ replies) and see what they did that week?! Or go to their Facebook page that is littered with contests? No way dude, I’m too busy for that!

I feel like small blogs cut their own throat by taking away the RSS capability. I give this analogy a lot, but social media outlets are INFO COLANDERS! 5% of your followers will see anything you post, and that’s probably only within 20 minutes of posting. That’s the way it is and it’s gonna only get worse. Apart from email lists, RSS is the best way you can collect stuff across the internet to read quickly, and I am so irritated when that choice is taken from me.

And that is exactly what’s bugging me about the death of Reader Share. It was an info pantry, not a colander–a place well stocked with nourishing brain food. I followed a number of people who had demonstrated, day after day, a sharp eye for items worth my time. Every time I clicked that “people you follow” link to see what they’d shared, I could count on learning something.

Of course there are other ways to share curated content. (I’m using Diigo for now.) Reader Share was simply the most efficient, the most convenient. It employed the “point of first use” principle used by savvy homemakers: store things where you use them. Keep your measuring cups and mixing bowls in the cabinet closest to the counter where you plug in your mixer. Keep your link-sharing button right next to the place where you do the bulk of your online reading–your feed reader. And while you’re at it, keep the feeds of the curators you like there too. It’s common sense.

I love the social media stream. It’s thrilling, it’s an adventure. It can set amazing chains of events in motion. And if you want a quick reply, there’s no better method. Once, standing in a doctor’s office, arguing with his staff over why he did, in fact, have to sign a document I had brought in, I fired off a quick Twitter plea for the relevant chunk of California legislation. In less than thirty seconds–faster than I could have Googled for the information and sifted through search hits on my tiny cellphone screen–I had it. The doctor’s staff complied. It was magical.

But, as we all know, social media can generate a lot of noise. So can the big, busy blogosphere. A good curator finds the music among the static. Reader Share made it easy to tune into that music. I miss it already.

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24 thoughts on “Why Curated Content Matters: A Lament for Reader Share

  1. I wrote on this too the other day. My big grief is that, while many of my friends/family read my blog, I don’t want every stranger who stumbles upon my blog getting a G+ link to my real name and life.
    That Shared Items page was like a quick-blog that had the pictures and videos I shared right there for people. G+ might show a tiny screenshot (as would FB). When you share with Twitter or Tumblr or Reddit, it shortens a link and shows the title but that’s it. No showing what site it is from or any of the content.

  2. For me, google reader has evolved into a form of communication with my 17 year old son. We share fandoms and a certain sense of humour, and every day we shared a few relevant posts. This gave us something to discuss in the evenings, and has opened up new channels to communicate at a time when communication isn’t always easy.

    With google reader sharing gone, we’ve lost that particular connection. I tried +1-ing items and then giving him the link, but he can’t see them. When he tries to open up google+, he’s informed he’s too young to use it.

    Also, our sharing feeds was actually a record of items-wanted that I was going to tap into when Christmas came around. I know there was a book in there that he’d commented that he wanted, but I do not recall what it was. Google reader pointed me to a place to download my share history. I’m speculating here, since I didn’t download it, but it didn’t look like it was in a format for browsing.

    I understand they’re trying to drive traffic to google+, but they haven’t provided equivalent alternatives.

  3. And what do you think about the Social Reader apps being pushed by Washington Post and the Guardian, among others? (My FB page has some recent links/concerns re this if you want to see what I’m talking about). For me, these things are similar in some ways – it is something about “who is reading what” creating or BEING free content in and of itself, but being pushed thru the stream quickly to make room for the next FREE content, a kind of meta deal where who is reading when is more important than the What. Sigh.

  4. Jeanne: I AM SO WITH YOU. The “is reading” updates on FB have made me really uncomfortable–I feel voyeuristic. It’s a hairsbreadth away from stalking a friend’s browser history!

    And this: “a kind of meta deal where who is reading when is more important than the What.”—-Yes. Exactly.

    Valerie, my 16yo expressed the same frustration about being cut off from the things her dad & I used to Reader-Share if we now share them on G+ instead. My solution has been to share to Diigo instead, tagging links there with “share” and running the share-tag feed in my sidebar. It’s subscribable, so she (and others) can sub to the feed of my share list and it’s pretty close to the Reader Share effect. Just a lot more steps involved…

    I downloaded my Shared Items from Google but it’s a file in a format I’ve never heard of, and when I asked (on G+) about good vehicles for accessing that content, people came up blank.

  5. Your first paragraph. +1

    I never used reader share, but the new page layout is WAY to white. There’s a lot less space for real content and a lot more space for format. Bad typographical design. Same problem with the iGoogle portal page now with the wider menus on the left and the ghastly red “Add Gadgets” button (a function I use once or twice a year).

    Lots of people complain. Google does nothing. Time to find a new reader. Any suggestions?

  6. I don’t care about the visual re-design. I’m not the enemy of Google Plus. The fact is, however, that G+ is a social media platform. Google Reader is a content sharing platform. Excuse me, Google Reader WAS a content sharing platform. Now it is a lonely content streaming platform.

    I would have welcomed integrating circles & the G+ networks into Reader. I am– excuse me, I WAS– a Google Reader evangelist. It is the main way I interface with the internet. Sharing content allowed intelligent filtering & exposure to new feeds. It was a crucial part of Reader’s success.

    Google Plus…isn’t a content sharing platform. Which isn’t a flaw– G+ is a different animal, & that is fine. What isn’t fine is trying to shoe horn things in that don’t fit. What isn’t fine is removing functionality for no reason. What isn’t fine is ignoring your core audience. Lobotomising Google Reader has already driven me to use Facebook & Twitter more. I even made a Tumblr. Not out of spite, but because…well, because they are tools. & now that my best tools have been broken– by Google– I use makeshift tools. My point is, I guess, that crippling their systems are driving me AWAY from Google.

    When I hit the several buttons it takes to publically plus one something & then share it…it shows up on my G+ “wall” as a…truncated link with a thumbnail of the source site? Which then has to be clicked through? That just isn’t efficient, not for the sharer nor for the reader. & that simple fact is why the “integration” isn’t an integration, at all. Why it is a bad idea. Because it breaks Google Reader.

  7. @Jm, I went into more detail about my gripes with the visual design here: http://melissawiley.com/blog/2011/10/31/thoughts-on-the-new-google-reader/ (and on G+ as well). The excessive white space pushes the reading area way down the screen. I’ve read that netbook users are finding it almost useless now–so much screen real estate lost to dead space.

    The black underlined links are one of my chief complaints. I like links to stand out. What was wrong with the standard blue? (One of the many reasons I loved reading blogs in reader was that clean, clear format. So many blogs use text/background/link colors that are hard to read; I could always count on a clear, legible view in my Reader.)

    And the left column is completely unworkable now. Heavy, dark, dull, eye-blurring. Argh.

    @Mordicai: love how you’ve articulated Reader’s shift: from content-sharing to content-streaming. Like you, I really like G+; I find it a tremendously useful platform for many kinds of communication.I relied on Reader for another kind of streamlined communication, and it’s one G+ can’t match. Nor Twitter, nor Facebook. I want a repository of carefully selected content that I can explore at my leisure. That’s what Reader was for me. I’m looking at alternatives (Feedly, back to Bloglines, etc) but nothing’s as clear and efficient as old Reader was.

  8. I have to second @Jm’s comments. I work with small screens a lot–white space is wasted space. I’ve never used the “share” fuction. I orginally choose Google Reader for its simplicity of design and ease of use over a few other RSS reader a coworker suggested. I have a lot of blogs I like to follow follow for my profession (and I’ve added GeekMom to the list ). I may have to go back and revisit the RSS reader list. Any suggestions?

    1. @Kim: I’m using Feedly as a stopgap but it is fussier than I prefer. I do like that I can share to Diigo (my Reader-share solution: I’ve set up a “share” tag on my Diigo account & created a subscribable widget for my blog sidebar) with one click.

  9. Related to screen size – this has also happened to Google Calendar. A redesign rendered it useless on my not-very-tiny laptop. I don’t really need a month view calendar where each days says “1 event” or “2 events.” I want to, you know, SEE the event! It is mystifying to me why they don’t seem to try out these things on real people with real computers.

    So far, I have been able to opt to keep the “old” Google calendar format. Hoping they don’t do away with it altogether for the new and improved, like with Google Reader.

  10. Wouldn’t it be somewhat similar if you put every curator you follow into a circle, and then just view that circle instead of your entire stream? Then those posts won’t get lost in the general “everyone” stream.

    1. A curator circle–that’s a really good suggestion. IF all my favorite curators would share to G+. But I know several of them are not social networking fans & have already expressed a lack of enthusiasm for Plus.

      Clicking that “share” button at the bottom of a blog post in Reader was just so, so, so easy. People who prefer the privacy of their own Reader shared happily in that quiet space. Time to start begging them to push their shares to some other platform, I guess…

  11. No, its not the same sharing in g+. It feels like posting in FB. The shared post is mora a update status, than a feed. Mournings for Google Reader from Lima, Peru.

  12. I’m a client-side kind of guy, so I *am* missing some of the fuss. I’m also a Linux user. In short: I went with a desktop feed reader, and the RSS cache is saved locally on my machine. I tried Google Reader, but found that Liferea doesn’t support it very well, and so I didn’t stick with it.

    That said, I think Felicia Day is SPOT ON. I am finding that some sites are dropping RSS support; one of my favorite webcomics, Hipster Hitler, recently did so. I don’t really use Facebook or Twitter, but that’s where they threw their support for notification of updates.

    Facebook and Twitter are the barflies of the Internet: I do understand that’s where the majority hangs out. But I ditched Facebook completely and Twitter… well, it’s as Felicia said, but worse. I found quickly that I couldn’t push beyond the 5% needed on Twitter to stay on the radar. I just don’t communicate like that– in short, pithy, frequent pulses. So I don’t use Twitter very much.

    1. You know, I don’t actually understand how/why sites are dropping RSS. One a feed is set up, there’s no maintenance involved at all. Why would anyone not want it as a backup, even if they are concentrating their efforts on stream platforms? Can anyone explain the rationale behind ditching RSS?

      Jaklumen, did Hipster Hitler offer any explanation? Or did his RSS just disappear one day?

  13. Great article. My first thought on reading it (In my google reader) was “I have to share this! She’s so right!”

    It’s massively frustrating that they have removed functionality. Why not just add +1’ing? Why take away something people use?

    The more I’ve thought about this over the last few days, the more it has angered me.

    Fundamentally, I’ve always trusted Google to do what they think is best for their consumers. This move seems only motivated by the desire to manipulate people into using their social platform. I find that I trust the organization less to have my best interests at heart.

    Lame.

  14. I’m also disappointed by the loss of the sharing features on Google Reader. I like to keep my shares and blogs separate because the shares use relatively high bandwidth, but the blog is maybe a few posts per month. I don’t like the blog entries to be drowned out by the shares.

    I’ve been researching alternatives for awhile here.

    My friend came up with a Yahoo Pipes script that he uses to push his G+ shares back over to other people’s google readers. It has no feed for comments though, and I hate posting my real name and other info to my shares.

    I’ve done something similar by combining Disqus and Tumblr, giving a shares RSS feed and a comments RSS feed for people to follow. I’ll probably post some instructions, but it’s still not completely perfect. Still can’t get the source link to the top of the entry on the RSS feed.

    There’s also a developer out there trying to create a full replacement for both google reader and its share functionality at Hivemined.org.

  15. I am so sad about the loss of that share button. I loved it. Why, oh why do they feel so compulsive about changing things all the time? (Do you hear the wail in my voice?). Thank you for speaking out about it.

    I believe in curated content too.

    (I’m not only wailing, I’m laughing too, at the curata ad that’s above this window. I’m too afraid to click the 30 day free trial however.)

  16. While I have never used the share button, I feel your pain. Unfortunately Google is evolving from a company that gave people what they wanted to telling people what they want – I think that is very shortsighted and quickly moves you from a dominant player to a also-ran.

    I’m very frustrated with the new reader, the excessive white-space is probably the brainchild of some artist with a 27″ monitor running at 2650×1900 resolution. I find the new colors to be very eye-fatiguing and the scroll bars seem a lot harder to see/click. The lack of any customization at all says a lot about the direction google is going.

    Its frustrating, I thought the reader was really good but I think its time to move on.

  17. I just discovered my shared items in my Google Reader gadget on my iGoogle homepage. I think you understand how giddy I am this afternoon. Now to figure out how to store these sites for future reference … I’d rather not just Plus 1 all of them right now … how do you keep your on-line notebook of recipes/craft ideas/holiday tips/inspiring reads?

    1. I should add that I am not a techie like most of the other commenters seem to be and per my husband, I was probably not using google reader as it was intended, I simply shared what I wanted to be able to find again (I used the search option to find recipes, crafts, and specific articles on topics of interest for future use). Now that I have this collection of websites, what do I do with it? I also downloaded the file but it is in a completely unusable format as far as I (and my techie husband) can tell … so I will have to click through one by one and don’t know what to do with it when I click through and say, “Yeah, I want to keep this … “

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