Google Reader has launched a major update to its web front-end about a year after its initial launch, redesigning its online feed aggregator to create a feed reading experience that should feel natural to users of Gmail. New features include a shared clippings service, better read/unread tracking, and the ability to share feed items easily over e-mail.
The coolest new feature is Google Reader’s continuous scroll of feed items combined with automatically selecting each feed item as you move around the news flow. You’ll find a lot more access keys in the new Reader, mapped to the common Gmail commands for massage navigation and actions. I like the Gmail-style unread count displayed in the page title, allowing me to glance at my row of tabs to see if I have anything new in my feed inbox.
The new shared items feature is similar to clippings found in other online aggregators and allows users to share an entry with the world via a blog tied to their Reader account. You can check out my Google Reader clippings blog for an example. Clips are shared in the order you mark each for sharing.
The new Google Reader is pretty impressive and may become the online aggregator of choice for many Gmail users. I was a bit disappointed Google did not leverage what I feel are its two biggest strong points: the data advantages of online feed aggregators and close integration with other Google services. An online aggregator has an edge over desktop aggregators by providing more information about each post or blog based on what might be already known about the site or based on the activity of a user collective. An online Google feed reader could tie into Google search, or offer special handling of enclosures passed off to Calendar or Spreadsheet. I’m most surprised that the new Google Reader does not include search integration with Google feed search, and actually removes the search bar that was present at the top of the page in Reader’s first version.
Google Reader is a Google Labs product and part of Google’s technology playground. Labs products are considered “prototypes” but may graduate to Google betas after significant user adoption and technical proving.