Nik's Pick: Google Reader

Today’s pick isn’t Mac-specific software, but rather a web based goodie from Google. You see, Google just updated Google Reader, their web-based RSS reader.

First, let me just say that I am a firm devotee of online RSS readers. I have a license to NetNewsWire, and I love it. It’s a great program. However, when I’m not at a Mac or not at my computer at all, it’s useless to me. Furthermore, online readers (if they’re good) fit seamlessly into my browsing experience. It’s all in one application, and serves as a launchpad for all my daily reading.

Up until today, I’ve been solidly in the NewsGator Online camp. It’s easy to use, does a good job with feeds that require authentication (which Bloglines never did manage), and offers minute and simple control over all your feeds. I still stand by it being an excellent product, but it just got one-upped.

Google Reader is, in many ways, very similar to Bloglines, NewsGator and other RSS readers (online or off). It lets you group your feeds into folders (and a feed can belong to multiple folders, so they’re more like tags than folders), and you can browse either headlines or the full feed text. Whichever you prefer.

Where it gets better is in making the workflow easier. It has full keyboard navigation, so you can easily browse through headlines and then expand a single headline to the full text, without ever touching the mouse. (Or you can use the mouse, if you prefer.) It makes batch changes to feeds or tags/folders simple and easy, letting you select multiple items and do whatever you wish with them (re-categorize, delete, change settings, etc.). And, perhaps most importantly, it’s fast. Really, really fast. Newsgator would occasionally slow to a crawl, where Google Reader always responds quickly and easily.

Then there’s one more feature which just nails it for me: Google Reader can automatically mark feeds as read not when they’re loaded (a la Newsgator or Bloglines) but as they’re displayed in your window! As you scroll past an item, it’s marked as read!

This, alone, is about the best feature I’ve ever seen in an RSS reader. I enjoy reading a long river of news when I do take the time to read, but then I get all stressed out about marking them as read or not each time I go through. Now, if I’ve seen it, it’s read. If I have to give up and go do some work, everything below the bottom of my browser window sticks around, waiting for my next visit.


There are some bugs. Doing batch deletes of tags/folders seems problematic, as a select-all + delete action will prompt me that I can’t delete my starred items tag. Ooookay, fine. Why, pray tell, can I select it at all then, when it cannot be deleted renamed or modified? And, moreover, why do I still get that dialog after un-checking the starred items tag?

Also, the whole tags vs. folders thing seems to be half-baked. The last version of Google Reader used tags. Now we have folders. But folders are assigned in the “tags” tab of the interface. Furthermore, when I select “change folder…” for a feed and assign it to a new folder, it actually just adds it to that folder, as though I were merely picking a new tag to assign to it. And, of course, I have no ability whatsoever to just add tags unless I’m specifically tagging an article. I can’t just create a new folder/tag to put my feeds into. Blech.

So I give this program a mere 5 out of 7, but it’s still got me hooked. All the problems above can be worked around in various ways, and the most common usage of simply reading articles is so much better than with the alternatives that I think it’s worth the headache of working around those bugs. Presumably those bugs will be fixed soon, too.

So, go check it out, see what you think.

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Written on September 30, 2006