Google Reader+ And Identity vs. Personas

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 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.

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  • Where is the +1 button on this post? 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts Mahendra. You know I was thinking of you when this announcement was being readied. I am looking forward to the rollout, and hope you’re happy with what’s delivered.

  • Ah, had not noticed the lack of +1 buttons – now corrected! 🙂

    Thanks, Louis – being remembered when this was being hatched is quite an honor. I am looking forward to what’s coming, appreciate your quick response.

  • Nails it.

  • Greetings, Mahendra. You got me thinking…  I’ve really tried to use Google Reader seriously for while, but it hasn’t grown on me for some reason.
    I’m surprised to see you consider it such an indispensable tool.
    Which do you think are the best Google Reader features that make you love it so much?Which are the worst which you think are in sore need of improvement? 

  • For a tech news hound, there’s no better source than Google Reader. Read my posts tagged “Google Reader” (you can find tags beneath the sharing buttons at the bottom of the post above) to find more about how and why I use it. For what needs to be fixed (some of which may be outdated with the upcoming changes) see response on Quora:

  • Thank you!

  • Phil Ashman

    Well written.

    Louis’ response bodes well..;). Can’t wait for us to continue the discussion once the changes have been released and we get a better feel for where Google are heading with this. 

  • Excellent analysis. I couldn’t agree more. It is like, Google is trying to please everyone under the same roof (Google+). There is a reason I post different content on Facebook and Twitter and Tim Carmody’s quote perfectly encapsulates that.

  • Overall, a spot-on analysis. We present different personae on different platforms, for intentional reasons.  My Reader shares tend to not only be more numerous than my Plus posts, but much more political.  I suspect my Plus followers will not be amused if I choose to reroute my Reader work there — but Google is offering me no real alternative here.

    I disagree with “No way to get an RSS feed of your Google Reader shares” as a Positive, as I do route those (with the notes) to my blog at present (as an archive of stuff I want to share, plus I know a number of people who simply don’t do Reader).  I do have Reader2Twitter turned on, but to a different Twitter account than my main one (and I don’t think there’s anyone who follows both).  I understand your point about being essentially a bot in such spamming of content around — but when done selectively it’s a useful tool, and it also recognizes that not everyone follows every social platform (or the same folks on all platforms).

  • My exact thoughts! 🙂

  • Thanks, Patrix – exactly!

  • The “from the hip” reaction is that sharing to different audiences is a privilege I’d prefer to maintain. Let’s see what Google delivers next?

    I have used Google reader as a web OPML file feeding into other services (Flipboard) for review. My sharing is usually fairly broad to my twitter and Google+ circles/public. But on occasion I’ll narrow the share to a specific sub group (although it’s hard if not impossible to know who will be interested in a given share apriori).

  • How is this any different now?

  • Thanks, Dave – your comment is spot on as well!

    I initially had the “no RSS feed” point listed under negatives, as I do think and agree that there are multiple ways in which you can use it constructively and positively as you describe.

  • Mark, as someone who takes the idea of distributed social networking/computing seriously, I’d have thought you’d put more serious thought into the problem of multiple personas. Thanks for your comment, maybe I was not clear enough in my post.

  • As long as there are multiple networks, we can maintain multiple identities. A few very good friends have multiple aliases which cater to specific communities.
    We exhibit diverse social customs in alternative subgroups. My work identity is different than my gaming persons, is different than my social web presence on a variety of networks.

  • Ah! That’s more like the Mark I know 🙂

  • I was intrigued by the reappearance of the identity debate enough to read the RWW post on Chris Poole:
    The comments there are well thought and highly valuable perspectives.

  • Thanks for sharing that, Mark. Some of them are insightful while others simply confuse the issue with the related issue of identity vs. anonymity.

  • Pingback: Grandes Frases Halladas en Internet. Vol. 10: Nuestra Identidad, Influencia, Filtrado y Censura | El Ornitorrinco en Linea()

  • Pingback: Hmmm, this change to Reader is def needed, but not sure about total integration — @Nerde()

  • Yep! I have faced a similar problem myself.  I had my blog hooked up to google buzz, where my friends (my only buzz followers) would comment and like the post.  Some people would leave comments on the blog itself.  Other times, people would “like” the post and share it from the RSS feed in google reader.  People would comment on facebook as well.  The whole thing was a giant boondogle.

    I’m glad google is killing buzz and integrating reader with plus to make an overall more cohesive platform.

    Also, I made a blog post about this very fact:

    I really wish commenting, liking, and sharing had a sort of unified structure across the web.  My email works with any email client I send it to, I wish there was a better parallel across facebook / twitter / tumblr / etc.

  • Michael Delpach

    Your point brought forward is logical. This reminds me of a Google+ posts where an author said you should be creating circles based on content, not by people. So in your instance, if you want tech news to be shared, then you have a Tech circle, just like you described. With Google+ with circles, one could avoid the requirement of having multiple Twitter accounts for different topics. 

    However, Google+ still is not the solution for your request of the core problem of online identity. This is essentially multiple personalities. It is not achievable in real life. You look the same wherever you present yourself. Representing yourself differently could be even a crime. Anyway, the only common piece of information I could see that is presented for all circles is the Profile Picture. Everything else in Google+ you can limit per circle basis. Therefore, as long as you are happy with your current profile picture, Google+ does solve the problem better than any other service. 

  • Carl-Johan Sveningsson

    Thanks for your deep analysis, I will certainly dig through it properly soon enough. Maybe you care to comment or reshare my attempt to figure out the current situation, as I too have been a very avid Reader user…

  • I had written about this problem in 2009:

  • since the google reader “like” integration into google+, I have indeed noticed a change in the number of +1’s a post gets.  it’s a little early to tell, but I like where this is headed.

  • mostly users face this problem for so many times but there is no solution permanently, but definitely we can found the right one earlier.

  • Shailendrasingh4mk

    Promises more granular control on the distribution of Google EarthPlus. It is a major selling point of the circle, which is now at least, Google Plus, most major facets of the sms

  • Shailendrasingh4mk

    happy new year

    love sms

  • Divya Divya

    Things have changed so much over the years. The apps that are being created by these tech giants are becoming a great marketing tool. 

    Divya Bhaskar