Story of Google Reader

I had lunch today with the Google Reader team and learned a bit more about the group, their success and challenges, and how new projects at Google are sometimes formed. This is the story of how a side-project intended for someone’s blog became a feed aggregator integrated into one of the largest Web properties in the world.

It all started with a love of blogging. Jason Shellen and Chris Wetherell were both members of the Blogger team and working on different ways to trick out their personal blogs. Jason kept various blogs including a link blog and wanted a way to integrate feed content from these blogs on his sidebar. Chris helped out with some JavaScript parsing and the first mini-aggregator was born.

Meanwhile, at the Googleplex, a few other engineers were using some of their 20% time to create their own mini-aggregators and think of new ways of applying concepts such as relevance, social software, and media-specific browsing such as images and video to the emerging world of feeds. Google has an internal mailing list used to discuss the latest trends and interests in the aggregation space, and a few of these ideas cross-populated between groups and a few hopeful projects were identified.

What was once a side-project and an exploration was soon encouraged to be released as a product. A small group of five people came together and started working on Google Reader full-time. The feature list for the team’s initial launch at the Web 2.0 conference in October was chosen, scaled back, and scaled back some more before its initial release four months ago. The team is still growing and adding new features including a public Google Reader API to allow other developers to create and extend applications on top of the Google feed ecosystem.

They’re just getting started and I expect some interesting announcements in the coming month.