The Google reader makes me feel illiterate (or, Why can’t Rex read?)

The Google RSS reader makes me feel illiterate (or, Why can’t Rex read?): Besides giving me lots of “Oops, an error occured” messages, Google’s new RSS reader is uncharacteristically unintutive. This is scary for me to say, but I can’t figure out how to use it. As I read reviews from people saying it misses this or that feature, I’m thinking to myself, to heck with adding features, I can’t figure out the ones they already have.

And that’s bad. Because if I am confused, I’m fearful that those who’ve never used an RSS reader are going to be overwhelmed — and Google should be all about being “simple.”

I never had this problem with gmail. I “got it” the first time I used it and like many things about it. It has never confused or baffled me the way the Google reader does. Gmail works on my Mac in every browser I use: Firefox & Safari and an old version of IE.

Yet I can’t get the Google reader to work in a way I understand in any of these browsers. And I’m not talking about it being buggy (which it is), I’m talking about it be head-scratching confusing to me.

Perhaps I should not have so quickly imported an OPML file with a few dozen feeds (however, that’s what I usually do to try out a new reader). I am challeged now to figure out how to manage a long list of feeds, something that is easy to do in other readers that have something akin to “folders” in which you can organize multiple lists. There’s something called “label” and I think I’ve created several of them and perhaps they are supposed to be like folders, but all my guesses as to how they work have come up short. I don’t even know where they’ve disappeared to.

Figuring I should at least see what the reader is like for someone starting from scratch, I decided to start all over, but now I can’t figure out an easy way to unsubscribe to a large batch of feeds. And when I unsubscribe one feed at a time (which is, in itself, a challenge to figure out how to do), I get the feeling that the feed is not really unsubscribed. I get this feeling because the next time I come back to the reader, the feed is still active.

Again, I was hoping Google would offer a simple “starter solution” for people who fear the whole “newsreader” thing, but I now fear if the Google reader is someones first experience with a newsreader, they’ll give up after a few minutes and not try again for months.

I still recommend Bloglines for a web-based reader, or wait a couple weeks for Yahoos new reader.

If you’ve had a good experience with the Google reader or you can explain it in a way that a non-technical, RSS-averse, lay person could understand (which is the type of person I think a Google-branded reader would appeal to), please feel free to add a comment to the post. I’ve got better things to do tonight than keep trying to figure out how to clear out all those feeds.

Update: I can’t figure out where I came up with that Yahoo! new news reader remark, but since I’m not able to reconstruct the mix-up that led me to file that mistake away, I’ll remove it. Obviously, MyYahoo and other Yahoo features have been using RSS feeds for a long, long time. (Thanks to Steve for asking the question.)

Update II: While watching tonight’s football game, I decided to revisiting the Google reader to at least figure out why I was having so much difficulty with the interface. I figured out my problem. I was confused because I was trying to filter it through a newsreader interface metaphor that is based on an email client interface. Duh. As a Mac user, I should have recognized that when you click on the “Your Subscriptions” option, you have a OSX-ish interface metaphor. So, if you use iTunes and can use that as a metaphor to which to compare the Google reader interface. Think of the list of subscriptions in the right box as your “library” and the label window as “playlists.” You can have the same feed in multiple playlists, I mean, labels. I still don’t like it, but at least now, I understand how it works.

  • Kleinheider

    Everybody seems to use Bloglines. I didn’t like it when I tried it. Recently, I have taken to Newsgator. The Google reader did strike me a bit wacky I didn’t even try messing with it.

  • Chris Wage

    I agree with your comments .. the interface is terrible, and it doesn’t work at all in opera, to boot.

    I am sticking with bloglines for now.

  • rex

    I was recommending Bloglines as a web-based reader. I think a desktop app like NetNewsWire (for Mac) or FeedDemon (Windows) is preferable. And both of those sync w/ Bloglines. Also, I am currently trying out Radio’s aggregator so I can figure out what a “river of news” is — but that’s another story.

  • Steve Rubel

    Rex, what new reader from Yahoo? I missed that one.

  • rex

    Thanks Steve. I went back to where I thought I’d read that and realized I was putting two things together didn’t actually relate.

  • Sarah

    The Google Reader uses “labels” instead of folders, just like Gmail. The idea behind labels is that you can apply mulitple labels to a feed (or email) — tagging them in a sense — instead of filing them in a folder.

    I really don’t have a problem with the interface — it’s so Gmail-esque, it all makes perfect sense to me.

  • rex

    Okay, Sarah. Challenged, I returned to it to see if I could replicate your ease-of-use statement. While the concept of labels is the same as gmail, it took me a while to figure out that one adds labels by clicking on the “edit” link of a specific feed in the “Your Subscription” (which are actually “My” subscriptions, but I guess Google thinks “My” sounds a little to Yahooish) section. Ah. Now it makes a little more sense.