Google Reader Has Just Got Socially Sexier

I think Google Reader has just got a damn sight more sexier and any lingering disloyal thoughts I might have had about going back to My Yahoo are now well and truly gone. The reason for my unwavering loyalty? Notes! Yes you heard me right – notes!

There’s now no doubt now that Google is gradually building a social network to rival all other social networks but it all seems to be in dribs and drabs and it’s a bit confusing how they are going to eventually connect it all up. I mean, let’s look at the various strands :

1) iGoogle : Google’s personalised search pages. As yet, still rather underrated (Google is not really pushing people towards it) but it is nevertheless slowly gaining a cult following among Googlers. Developers are becoming a lot like Facebook developers and are pushing out a lot of applications to users. There may come the day however when Google DOES start pushing people by default towards their personalised iGoogle pages and we may not have a plain no-frills page anymore……but let’s wait and see on that one.

2) Picks For You : Google’s version of Stumbleupon (but without the profiles, thumbs up, commenting and close-knit community that makes Stumbleupon unique). “Picks For You” is a Google Toolbar button that needs (obviously) the Google Toolbar installed and your Google search history enabled. So you need to trust Google a great deal to use this feature. “Picks For You” works by studying your Google search history stored inside the toolbar and then bringing you alternative webpages that it thinks you might like based on those past searches. But unlike Stumbleupon, you cannot specify particular subjects to include or exclude. It just goes by what you have searched for in the past. So bad luck if you previously searched for how to treat your STD problem.

3) Gmail : Many people have commented that with a bit of work, the Gmail contacts section could be leveraged into a social networking area of its very own, especially since Gmail 2.0 came equipped with the ability to add instant messaging usernames. Then Zoopit (not connected to Google) launched its private beta which gives users the chance to show photos from their email in their Gmail inbox (which I eventually uninstalled because Zoopit demanded my Gmail password).

4) Google Reader : and so we come to Google Reader which seems to me to be the jewel in the Google social networking crown right now. They hit a major snag at first when they announced that Reader shared links would be visible to all other contacts and I have to admit this soured me on Reader for a while (it also caused a bit of an uproar in the Google Help Forums) . But I soon decided to forget about it and work around it instead. Instead of worrying about what links people can see, just let them see what you want them to see.

The first hint of a social network in Google Reader is the basic profile and you can invite your Reader contacts to share in your RSS feeds.

This is all old hat though. It’s the new feature that has made me realise that Google Reader is on the verge of kicking some serious social ass.

A lot of the time, while I am stumbling around, I find great webpages that I want to share with my Google Reader contacts but at the same time I do NOT want to subscribe to the whole damn feed just to show off one page. In these circumstances, I tend to think “oh forget about it!” and move on.

There are also (believe it or not) websites without RSS feeds (gasp!). It’s 2008 but these sites are still stuck in the mindset of 1998. One of my favourite websites doesn’t have a RSS feed which irritates me immensely – The Straight Dope. I have always wanted to share pages from that site with my Reader contacts but how can I when I can’t get it to show up in Reader? But now, thanks to Google Reader, I can!

First, just go “Your Stuff” in your Reader sidebar and then “Notes”. You’ll then find a draggable javascript link that you can pull up to your browser bar with your mouse.

Now I went to the Straight Dope to try out this link. I found this page on tornadoes in North America and decided to send it to my Reader contacts. So I clicked on the Notes link to see what happened.

It opens up a small Reader box in the top right hand corner of the screen, asking you if you want to proceed and it also gives you the opportunity to attach a note with the link. After doing all that and pressing the confirm button, the link then appears in Google Reader right away :

Absolutely neat! No hitches whatsoever!

There is one other new feature as well – the ability to send notes to your Reader contacts. Again, just go to your Notes page and start typing in the notes box at the top of the page. Then click “post note” :

With features like this, you have to wonder what other RSS services have to do to compete to stay relevant. If they bring out similar services, they’ll be accused of copying. If they do nothing, they’ll be accused of giving up. But if you compare what Google is bringing out these days and then look at My Yahoo, Bloglines, or a similar service, is there any real competition in the RSS business anymore?

Someone asked me just now if there is any need for Google to connect all these various services up and what is wrong with them all being disconnected. Well maybe it’s my orderly neat mind but Google has always seemed to me to be a neat organised company and having scattered pieces of a “social network” doesn’t fit their psychological profile. Do you agree? I really am interested to see how it all comes together in the future and how they intend to take on Facebook at their own game.

Written by Mark O’Neill


  1. rampantheart

    I have been using Bloglines as my feed aggregator and am satisfied with it. But i didn’t know Google reader would be this user friendly.I have never even bothered to check out Google notebook and Reader before and worse, just now am i hearing abut Picks for you. Can’t wait to check it out!Thanks for the info!

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  2. Fat Lester

    Very insightful post! The thing I’m now wondering is that (assuming you are correct in your assertion that Google is building a social network) what that means relative to the rumors that Google had been inquiring about a possible purchase of Digg.

    Is this an indication that they may be content do the project in-house rather than pay the prices reportedly being asked for the social news site?

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  3. Mark O'Neill

    Good question. To be honest, I don’t know. My gut feeling is that the Digg asking price is too high and so this may be Google’s fall back plan, Plan B.

    I have never seen the sense of Google buying Digg because where would Digg fit into Google? It would seem so…..out of place, so un-Google-like. If they did buy it, they would probably just buy it to say “hah! We bought it and it’s ours! Now no-one else can have it!”

    I hope they don’t buy Digg and instead concentrate on developing this instead. What they are doing with Reader / Gmail / iGoogle has MUCH more potential.

  4. Stephen Cronin

    Good Post Mark,

    I’m a big fan of Google Reader, but mainly as a feed reader rather than as a social networking tool. I see the benefits of that, but I don’t want to share everything with everyone – so your link to the Google post about the Notes feature is great. Thanks!

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