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September 5, 2007

Reading Reactor (or a Google Reader Update)

A Google Reader update, released to a select number of users, solved a weird annoyance and added a long-existing feature to the interface. (Update: The new release is live and it also includes the most requested feature - search.)

Apparently, Google Reader learned to count to 1,000, which is a major improvement if we consider that Google Reader was only able to count to 100. More exactly, all the feeds, folders and other views showed 100+ if you had more than 99 unread items. I wonder if this is a technical limitation or Google is afraid we're not able to handle the information overload.

The other feature lets you hide the sidebar by clicking on a small arrow, like in Google Maps. You can already do this by typing u, but who's going to remember all the keyboard shortcuts? (You don't have to remember them. Google Reader is probably the only major web applications that makes it a piece of cake to see the available shortcuts: just type ?)

Like any grown-up Google product, Reader will also add support for multiple languages and remove all the icons reminiscent of Google Labs. Google Reader is now more than a feed reader, it's responsible for almost anything related to feeds at Google: from iGoogle to the feed API. After all, it started as an Atom parser in JavaScript that became a 20% project.

"[Aaron Boodman] let me know (I'm paraphrasing) that I was missing the big picture and that a reading tool would be more useful if its model started with the item (not the source) as a building block and allowed items to be interleaved and maybe even ranked and recommended to other people. Our conversation meandered into comparing certain views to television as TV channels are important but not as important to viewers as the shows themselves," describes Chris Wetherell the initial vision.

Hopefully, this vision will continue to guide Google Reader. Ranking, filtering, recommending help you see the most important information and obtain a personalized view for your feeds. Google Reader could truly become a reactor by reacting to your signals and to external signals (Reactor is Google Reader's codename).

{ Screenshot licensed as Creative Commons by Dan Ox. Tip from Tom Schenk Jr. Special thanks to Justin Blanton. }

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