Google has announced that Google Reader will finally get a much-needed revamp. It will now be integrated with Google Plus, and its native isolated social network will be abandoned. See Techmeme for responses from the tech blogger community. The response from Google enthusiasts has been largely positive, as you can see in this Google Plus thread. For non-Google enthusiast responses, see this Hacker News thread.
As a heavy user of Google Reader, I have mixed responses to this announcement.
- Google Reader will finally get a much-needed UI revamp. I suspect removing the native social follower-model within Google Reader will make it much faster.
- Sharing from Google Reader to Google Plus will be much easier. I can quickly share an item from my Google Reader to my “Tech Enthusiasts” circle on Google Plus.
- No way to get an RSS feed of your Google Reader shares. Many people use this RSS feed for auto-posting shares on their WordPress/Blogger/Tumblr blogs, in addition to Twitter. Of these, Twitter is where the most noise is generated by this auto-posting. I have written about this in great detail before.
- No way to follow a highly-curated tech-focused feed of other Google Reader enthusiasts. As a passionate Reader enthusiast who stays on top of tech news all day, my feelings about missing this feed is well expressed by Sarah on TechCrunch.
Understanding the Root Problem
My Google Reader shared feed is a tech-focused feed and nothing else. My Google Plus feed, however, is a mix of personal photos, personal blog posts, shares as a father about my daughter, etc. Where will my Google Reader followers get my tech-focused feed now? No, Google Circles doesn’t solve the problem.
The reason I have this tech-focused blog, and keep a separate personal blog (where I’m currently writing about Western Classical Music appreciation) is that readers of this blog expect to read tech-focused posts, while friends who know me personally enjoy reading my personal blog too. I do not pollute my own Google Reader shared items with my own personal blog posts.
The reason I have two separate Twitter accounts is for the same reason. @ScepticGeek is well-known as a tech expert, while people who either know me in real life or are interested in my other non-tech interests follow @Palsule. Different people even call me in real-life either as “Mahendra” or “ScepticGeek”.
Identity and Personas
Both Google and Facebook are now forcing me to be myself with all my varied interests in all my sharing and engagement on those networks. Twitter allows me to be two different persona. This is a crucial difference, recently described best by Chris Poole, nicely summarized by Tim Carmody here. The money quote:
Both Google+ (with Circles) and Facebook (with Smart Lists) misunderstand the core problem of online identity: It’s not only about who you’re sharing with, but how you represent yourself. “It’s not who you share with, but who you share as.”
On Google Reader I am @ScepticGeek, on Facebook I am @Palsule, on Twitter I can be both, and now I wonder what I am supposed to be on Google Plus.
The Future: Focus on Interest Graph
Does this mean Google Plus necessarily becomes a place of incongruous, irrelevant shares? No. What we need is better filters for relevance. I have written before about how Quora complements the Social Graph with an Interest Graph for greater relevance as well as serendipity. As a general-purpose social network, Google Plus needs to do more.
We need to be quickly able to filter the Google Plus feed by source – Google Reader, Photos, YouTube, etc. Google needs to invent a way to auto-tag/auto-classify Google Plus posts such that I can view a feed of tech news, personal photos, humor, photography, etc. using a simple UI filter.
This problem is understood by Bill Gross, who started Chime.in as a way to “Follow a Part of a Person”, the idea being that you can follow both @ScepticGeek and @Palsule on the same network, and depending on your interests, you will auto-magically see only the shares you are interested in. But with the likes of Google and Facebook in the race for dominance of the social web, it is unclear whether new startups focusing exclusively on this problem stand a chance.
Do you know who is already capitalizing on this problem and is hugely successful? Tumblr. Most people use Tumblr by sticking to a specific area of interest, and the social network makes it easy to follow others sharing your interests. With 850 million Facebook users, 50 million Google Plus users, why are there almost 30 million Tumble blogs out there with over 10 billion posts? I suspect it is because neither Facebook, nor Google Plus are an interest-based social network like Tumblr. The future war of the social web hinges on who better creates the most relevant experience for users.