Google Reader sharing = kind of lame

Google has launched a couple of new features for Google Reader, including the ability to share items with friends even when they aren’t in an RSS feed — through a bookmarklet like the ones that Facebook and about a gazillion other sites have — as well as the ability to add “notes” to the items that you’re sharing from within Reader. I think these baby steps (and they are baby steps) are a nice addition to Google Reader, and a year ago they might have even been groundbreaking, but next to the kind of things that FriendFeed and others are doing with sharing and commenting, they actually look kind of lame.

Don’t get me wrong — sharing things within Reader from a bookmarklet is a nice feature to have, although as Adam Ostrow (who also co-owns the new Readburner site, which is a community built around Reader shared items) notes at Mashable, there have been hacks that allowed you to do pretty much the same thing if you really wanted to. But I don’t really see the point of having the ability to add a note to what you’ve shared. Maybe I’m just missing the point (although I do like the fact that shared items now look different in your Reader items view).

One of the biggest problems with Google Reader is that it’s disconnected from everything. That was a problem with too, until the site — founded and run by former Googlers, including Paul Buchheit and Bret Taylor — added the ability to post comments back to Twitter while also keeping them within FriendFeed as well. I think that kind of cross-posting ability is a huge plus. One of the other irritants with Google Reader is that it adds people as your friends even if you’ve only emailed them once or twice (Google Chat does the same thing). That’s just dumb. In any case, GReader’s added features are nice, but they’re going to have to step up the pace a bit over at the Googleplex.

Google ruining Christmas? Get a grip

Since I’m full of the milk of human kindness after a wonderful Christmas, I’ve been trying to remain calm in the face of all the Google Reader hysteria about shared items and so on — but wiping out on some ice yesterday and landing on my ass has made it hard to stay serene (combined with gashing my hand playing Wii baseball), so I can’t help pointing out that much of the moaning about “privacy” is just ridiculous.

Like Stan over at Mashable, I’m wondering what part of the word “shared” isn’t being understood in this whole scenario. Are the people who are complaining non-English speakers? That seems unlikely. So the idea of “sharing” items on your Google Reader must be one they are at least glancingly familiar with. Scoble has decided to take the high road and blame Google for not implementing ‘granular privacy controls’ — and that might be a good thing for Reader, just as it would be for Facebook.

But it’s not something that’s necessary, in my opinion, nor is it something Google should be slammed for not having. The company explained that shared items would be visible to GTalk contacts — pretty simple, in my opinion. Plus, they can only be seen by contacts who also use Google Reader, and those contacts have to specifically click on the shared items from other users to see them. It’s not as if they’re being emailed to your friends, or scrolling by on the Jumbotron.

Would GPC be handy to have? Sure. Would a better contact management system be good? No doubt. But if you want to keep something private in Reader, but still save it for later, there’s a simple way of doing that: use the “Star” function. The word “share” means exactly what it implies. In case anyone is interested, my shared items are here. They may not be as interesting as Scoble’s, but they’re the best I can do (they’re in the sidebar of my blog as well, via a Reader widget).


Steve Rubel has a post that shows how to share items with a certain group of people without having them shared with every member of your Google contact list — share them by using a special tag. And now Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins at Mashable says that Google has added the ability to move all of your shared items to a new tag if you wish to stop sharing them with everyone and only share them with certain people. The official Google blog post on the topic is here.

Google: Don’t cross the "activity streams"

Egon: “There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.”

Venkman: “What?”

Egon: “Don’t cross the streams.”

Venkman: “Why?”

Egon: “It would be bad.”

According to a leaked video from an internal Google briefing — first reported by a commenter called “fanboy” at Google Blogoscoped and expanded on by Ionut Alex. Chitu at Google Operating System — the company plans to tie together some of the strands of social information it has through Google Reader and other services into what it apparently refers to as “activity streams.”

The idea seems to be that your RSS feeds and your Calendar events and GTalk updates and your blog postings could all be turned into a single stream of information, which others could subscribe to. As more than one person has mentioned, this sounds very much like a Facebook feed, which contains everything from status updates to photos that have been posted.

There aren’t a whole lot of details on these new plans — which go by the code name Maka or Mocha or possibly Makamaka, depending on who you believe — but I think such a feature is a smart move for Google to make.

It’s ironic that Facebook’s unified feed, which caused so much consternation when it was first released, is a huge part of what makes the site so sticky — being able to see what all of your contacts are up to in a single glance is very addictive. Google has a bunch of useful apps like Gmail and Reader and so on, but they aren’t tied together very well. Mocha could change that.

Note: There are also some pretty amazing stats about Google Reader in the video briefing, including the fact that the back-end for the Reader (which apparently serves as the back-end for other Google apps that involve feeds) has 10 terabytes of data and 8 million feeds, and that Google plans to add feed recommendations and other social features soon.

Further reading:

MG Siegler at ParisLemon says Google appears to be moving in the direction he has been hoping it would for some time now, and Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land has some thoughts on the various features Google seems to be looking at — including possibly allowing comments on Google Reader shared items, which is a bit of a sticky subject as this TechCrunch post outlines.


Philipp Lenssen of Google Blogoscoped says in a comment here that he has reason to believe the proper name for Google Reader’s new project is “Maka-Maka.” Not sure what the name is supposed to mean — all I could find out from a Google search was that Maka-Maka is the name of a popular “manga” (or adult) comic involving two female friends who become lovers, and that the word “maka” in Hawaiian means “eye.”

Google Reader search — it’s about time

Finally. Google has decided to add search functions to my favourite RSS reader, Google Reader. Until now, the inability to search through my 400 or so feeds was a gaping hole in the usability of Google’s RSS reader — but not enough of a hole to get me to switch.

It made me wonder when Google added features such as the ability to see your RSS reading trends (whose feeds you read most, share most, star most, etc.) but didn’t add a search function. Didn’t Google use to be a search company? But I still liked Google Reader enough that I have kept using it, even though I used to be a die-hard fan.

As Ionut Alex. Chitu mentions, there are some quibbles with the search function in Reader, but it is still definitely a must-have. And before you mention it, yes I have tried, and used to use it regularly but moved on — I like the redesign, but I think it’s too little too late.

Is Robert Scoble stealing or marketing?

To me, one of the most important developments of the past few years from a Web 2.0 perspective was RSS, the “really simple syndication” format that allowed any blogger and in fact any website period to become their own newswire, just like Associated Press or Canada News Wire. Sure, it’s plumbing, but it’s important plumbing. Which is why it’s important that we decide what people are allowed to do with RSS feeds and what they’re not.

For example, taking all of someone’s feed and putting it on a website and then selling ads around it is clearly wrong, it seems to me. This is called “scraping,” and it is flat-out stealing. Then there’s taking someone’s full feed and putting it on a site but not selling ads around it, and pointing people to the originating blog, which is kind of what Top Ten Sources got in trouble for awhile back (more on that here). That’s in kind of a grey area.

Then there’s what Robert Scoble is doing, which is using the “share” feature in Google’s Reader (which I also use) to highlight certain items in the feeds that he reads. Google gives you what amounts to an instant blog, or at least a distinct URL, where all your shared items show up (mine is here) and they are the full items from anyone who has a full-text feed.


That got someone named Andy Beard — whose website says he is involved in keyword research and affiliate marketing — kind of upset, because he said RSS is meant to be private and therefore Scoble was helping to ruin RSS. This makes no sense whatsover, of course, since RSS is by its nature a syndication mechanism. But in the comments on Scoble’s post, it became clear that others, including Duncan Riley of b5 media, think what he is doing is stealing.

To Scoble, however (and to me as well), it seems more like helping — since a link to a post in Scoble’s shared items is almost certain to drive people to the blog in question. Is that not a good thing? And there are no ads in the reader blog, so he can’t be accused of making money from it. And it isn’t a full feed, although it is full-text posts.

As Techdirt has written before, this seems like someone complaining because someone else made their content more valuable (be sure to check the back and forth between Mike Masnick of Techdirt and Jason Calacanis of Netscape in the comments on the Techdirt post). And Fred Von Lohmann of the EFF and others have pointed out that publishing an RSS feed implies a license to reuse that content.