I started using Google Reader and Twitter for discovering and sharing content at roughly the same time in April last year. I share and tweet almost exactly the same content. After about 8 months, I have over 1100 followers on Twitter vs. 133 on Google Reader.
How do these two stack against each other from a discovery and sharing perspective? As a newcomer to the social web, my experience can be illustrative of any new user of these services.
A Glace At Follower Stats
In less than a year, I have 1100+ followers and am on 130+ Twitter Lists. Neither did the #FollowFriday or @MrTweet recommendations I received lead to any increase in followers, nor did being a Techmeme Editor lead to any surge in followers. My Twitter following has increased organically, steadily, without any positive disruptive event, like a recommendation by an influencer in any blog post or tweet.
On the other hand, I have promoted my Google Reader shares on my blog in a sidebar widget, tweeted and written about Google Reader often, commented on other blog posts discussing Google Reader, and shared my Reader feed on FriendFeed earlier. The only positive disruptive event that increased my Google Reader following was when I was recommended by Holden on TechGeist (the blog is no longer active).
The people I follow on both networks are in US/EU. Even if I live in India, most of the people following me on both networks are also from US/EU. I overcome the local limits of real-time by using Google Reader for discovery. One may expect my Twitter following to be more local and my Google Reader following to be global, but interestingly, this is not the case.
I can tell from my engagement and Retweets on Twitter that my audience is largely global and not local.
The Discovery Angle
There are two aspects of discovery: content and people. It is clear that Google Reader remains a great tool for discovery of content, especially for a non-US/EU person like me. However, Google Reader sucks at discovering great people to follow.
It is easier to find the Twitter profile of a person with a search on Google, than finding his or her Google Profile. FriendFeed remains the best bet for finding Google Reader profiles.
You can easily crawl an influencer’s network on Twitter and use Twitter Lists for discovering great people to follow. Ever tried finding out who an influencer is following on Google Reader?
The Sharing Angle
My shares on Twitter get retweeted and often lead to conversation. Some kind folks practice thanksgiving via attribution when they tweet content they discovered via my Google Reader shares. Both these lead to psychological payback on Twitter in terms of increased followers, mentions, and list memberships.
On Google Reader, my shares disappear into a black hole. I never know when my share was re-shared by others. These re-shares also appear on other user’s FriendFeed and Twitter accounts without any attribution to the curator. Sharing on Google Reader has virtually zero psychological payback, unless you are an established tech celebrity.
Google Reader was designed as a personal RSS feed reader and social features have been added as an after-thought. I was always a skeptic of claims that Google Reader will replace FriendFeed. Google lacks a social network of people, and prefers taking an algorithmic approach to social relevancy. There is no psychological payback for sharing on Google Reader because fundamentally, Google perceives you not as a person, but as a data element whose shares can be indexed and ranked. Is this a reflection of Google’s engineers lacking emotional intelligence or simply a technical limitation? That said, it still remains a great tool for discovery of content, because of RSS.
As a result of all this, I see the influencer-ordinary user pyramid on Google Reader remaining more or less the same in the years to come. There will be a few tech influencers who will get engagement and drive traffic via Google Reader, but its opaque approach to social networking will remain its Achilles’ Heel for ordinary users. This weakness has even given rise to parallel feed-based social networks like Toluu and PostRank. The fundamental problem of monetization of Google Reader also persists.
What this also means is apps and services that use RSS and relevancy algorithms for discovery and ease sharing of content to other social networks (Twitter & Facebook) are well-positioned to diminish Google Reader’s dominance of the feed reader market. Apps like LazyFeed, my6sense, and RSSOwl are some examples. In my opinion, it would be a good strategy for apps like Feedly to disassociate themselves from the Google Reader platform.
Twitter is a great tool for discovery of content, and its transparency makes it a unique tool for discovery of people. This means that the influencer pyramid on Twitter is constantly evolving, unlike Google Reader. Lastly, Twitter rules over Google Reader when it comes to payback for sharing.