Google Reader

Google Reader is a really great product

In general, I’m pretty negative on the movement towards web apps. Most web apps are lacking in functionality compared to desktop alternatives and are still trying to catch up. I really like drag and drop, multiple windows, and offline access. I know Google is working on all these things in the browser, and when it’s all working well it will be great…. but for now, I don’t want to use something that is web based simply because it’s made by Google and free.

Google Reader is the exception. It’s not just another product that has moved from the desktop to the web just because. It’s actually better than any desktop RSS reader I’ve ever seen, by far. First, some good reasons why any RSS reader should be on the web:
  • There was never a good desktop RSS reader. People rave about NetNewsWire but it never impressed me that much. So there’s a need here, and might as well make it cross platform.
  • RSS readers actually are web browsers in a sense. They are viewing HTML posts, so it does make sense for them to be web based
  • I am in my browser reading a site when I decide I want to subscribe to the RSS feed. I shouldn’t have to move to another tool to do so
And now, why Google Reader is the best RSS reader (and in my opinion, the best and most polished product Google has ever released):
  • Easily subscribe to a site you’re on with the bookmarklet
  • Infinite scrolling. When you are reading your reading list, it might just load 20 or 30 posts. But as you scroll down near the bottom, Google Reader loads more posts via AJAX. So you just keep scrolling down and keep reading, you are never interrupted by pagination.
  • As you scroll through posts, it marks them as read. You don’t need to click on them or actively do anything else…If they were viewed on your screen, they are read. Awesome
  • Keyboard shortcuts like ‘j’ and ‘k’ to move between posts quickly. Scrolling on web pages is usually dumb: it just moves down a fixed amount. But j and k actually scroll just the right amount to put the next post at the top of your list. I use this to jump through posts super fast and then only read the ones I find interesting
  • Space bar pagination is smart. Usually hitting space on a webpage scrolls down exactly one page length. But Google Reader is smart: If the next post is just above the fold, it scrolls down less than a page length to bring that post to the top of your screen. A tiny detail, but SO SO smart.
What makes a great Apple product is attention to detail, and Google has nailed that with Google Reader. Major props to you Google Reader engineers and designers out there. Thanks for making a phenomenal product.