Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Interface Design And User Experience Drive The New Google RSS Reader Aggregator

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Google has finally launched its own Web-based RSS Reader during last week Web 2.0 conference.

The new RSS tool from Google sports a good set of basic features while providing, in my humble opinion, a great interface and user experience.


The interface is all based on the new Web 2.0 paradigm and by using Ajax technology it provides a soothing and pleasing experience to anyone looking to scan, browse and read news content coming from RSS and Atom feeds.

While the new Google RSS Reader has still a few rough edges and bugs, it does provide an excellent way to subscribe to Web sites, news and blog updates in a simple and effective way.

The unique look and feel, the ergonomics and usability of content access, its navigation consistency with the GMail interface standards, and the attention to information design details make this RSS/Atom reader a model of effective user experience for online news reading.

Here the main features:

  • The Google Reader allows the direct import of RSS and Atom feeds as well as of OPML files (containing feed collections).
  • News items read inside the Google Reader can be "tagged" with unique keywords or keyphrases as to simplify the need to personally categorize and group incoming content in multiple ways.
  • Google_Reader_tags_edit.gif


  • Content can also be marked with "stars" which can be used as an extra tag marker to identify unique high importance items. A filter function allows to select only feeds that match your preferred keywords (the filter is applied to the title of the feeds only).
  • The Google Reader integrates also an RSS/blog Search facility that can be effectively used to find relevant RSS sources and feeds on your preferred topics. Once a search is performed all relevant results are displayed with an option to immediately "tag" and subscribe to each and everyone of them.


Once again, information design plays a large role in how readable, simple to scan and effective this search results page appears to the end user. Though probably the level of awareness of most users, I think that Google information design strategy still plays a pivotal role in allowing easy and rapid adoption for Google new tools as well as in generating deep user loyalty and long term trust gained through such investments in the design of a quality user experience.


And indeed, the most interesting aspects of the Google Reader interface are the seamless content updating on the page, which Microsoft has long pioneered with its excellent Start project (you must give that one a try if you haven't), and the organization and layout of the navigation controls that make possible a direct and smooth access to the feeds content.

Click the image above to enlarge it

Albeit apparently secondary to the many geeks and technologists writing about this new Google tool is also the effective formatting of the actual content coming from the news feeds and displayed inside the Google Reader. Titles are large and very readable, and they are immediately followed by the source, date and a link to the original article.

The content itself defaults to a 10-point looking Arial font, and nonetheless it is not as readable as the title, it has good ample white margins on its sides and uses enough vertical spacing to make itself very clean-looking and easy to read.

A great, very sensible ergonomic addition is the effective introduction of a few simple shortcuts that allow speedier navigation inside the Reader. For example the "J" and "K" allow to move rapidly from one news item to the next, forward or backward, within a specific feed.


Better than this is the visual integration that allows the reader to see at all times the article list of any selected feed while viewing the contents of any highlighted post in the central pane. While this is a feature common to all RSS readers, Google has designed a truly elegant visual device that connects and weaves news list scanning with the browsing of specific content items. I really like this.

Among the things still to be improved:

a) Adding a feed URL forces the user to Preview the feed before she can actually subscribe to it. Please add a direct subscribe button so that we don't need to do this tour each time.

b) After adding a new feed to the Google Reader I expect to see my list of subscriptions with the title of the newly added feed. Google Reader offers instead a detail view of that feed only which does not fully satisfy my reading expectations.

c) To access my subscription list, which as a matter of fact I would like to be able to see at all times (a la Bloglines), I need to click on Return to Your Reading List and then on Your Subscriptions. (It may be that I am still too new to the tool to make the best of it, but my take on this is that whatever the user can make of a tool in the first 5 minutes is what really counts).

d) I couldn't get the RSS feed of to be added to my reading list. It would preview fine but when I clicked to Subscribe it never added it to my reading list or subscriptions.

e) As you start using the Google Reader, you may end up seeing the central content pane empty, as no news items have been posted to those feeds since your subscription to them inside the Google Reader. Though that makes perfect logical sense, novice, non-technical users have a hard time grasping this concept the first few times around and it would be useful to display by default the last 10 news items for any newly subscribed feed no matter how old they are.

f) A tiny bit too slow for my taste. Not that the other Ajax-based readers/aggregators are a lot better on this front, but if I could make it a bit snappier, I certainly would.

The Google RSS Reader works across most browsers and operating systems including:
IE 6 Windows
Firefox 1.0+ Windows Mac Linux
Safari 1.3+ Mac
Netscape 7.2+ Windows Mac Linux)
Mozilla 1.7+ Windows Mac Linux)

The Google RSS Reader is completely free to use.

To try it now go to:

Readers' Comments    
2006-10-16 15:48:36

Bill Bowen

I agree that it is a good looking tool, my question is this: can it be installed onto my blog or website?

posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, October 12 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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