Google Reader & Blogrolls – There’s Room for Improvement

Obviously there are a lot of things that we all use from day to day which come from Google, but that doesn’t mean that everything they do is something we should be jumping up and down and running towards.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Cutts opened up a Poll on Google Reader Features that his readers (and all of you) would like to see added to the program. Honestly, there is only one thing that I see which would be of use – drag and drop to rearrange feeds.

Not surprisingly, it’s the second most popular option. One of the most interesting items on the list of suggestions Matt has on his list is “Let me click to rename feeds”. Apparently there are a lot of people who haven’t made use of an already built-in function of Google Reader – Subscription options. Right in there is this strange option – Rename subscription.

One thing that I swear that there wasn’t much overwhelming demand for was having the ability to create a blogroll from your list of subscriptions. However, they’ve gone and done just that. If you look at the post where the developer mentions it, you’ll see that he’s using it.

I don’t mean this as a criticism of him personally, as I have as many, or possibly more, blogs in my reader, but the thing I notice is that the blogroll is quite long, and could use a way of putting it into a div that would scroll in the page. In fact, it extends a full 4,000 pixels beyond the end of the content.

The other thing that I notice is how it doesn’t integrate with the rest of the page very well. I know that there are javascript blogrolls that will pick up the page’s preexisting CSS and fit in with the rest of the page. Unfortunately, this widget doesn’t do that, rather opting for a style which, and I think this is a partially good thing, somewhat screams Google.

No, it’s not the poor integration with the site it’s hosted on, or even the fact that it’s a javascript-based element (it makes sense considering that your reader is a flexible thing, so products produced based on it would need to be fluid). The thing that gets me is the complexity of the code.

Snoskred pointed me to a link about this new feature on TechCrunch. She made the observation that this should make grabbing the HTML from a blogroll easier than how we do it now – manually making the links and updating the sidebars.

Let us take a look at an entry in a couple of blogrolls. The first is from one of the bigger Blogrolling blogrolls out there, the Blogger Chicks blogroll. Because of how big it is, it’s set up to have a scrollbar, but what I didn’t expect was that it is set up as a table. This is the code for one line of the blogroll –

<tr class="blogroll_tr"><td class="blogroll_td"><a href="" target="_blank" title="Last updated: 04:18:46 [GMT] on Saturday, September 29">Expired Convictions</a></td></tr>

It’s fairly simple, and you can easily extract the information you need – the linking code. Now, for comparison, here is the code for one line — yes, just one line — of the blogroll listed on TechCrunch –

<li style="border: medium none ; margin: 0pt; padding: 0.4em 0pt; background: transparent none repeat scroll 0%; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial; text-align: left; text-indent: 0pt; text-decoration: none; font-weight: normal; list-style-type: none;"><a style="border-style: none none solid; border-color: -moz-use-text-color -moz-use-text-color rgb(151, 224, 122); border-width: medium medium 1px; margin: 0pt; padding: 0pt; background: transparent none repeat scroll 0%; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial; text-align: left; text-indent: 0pt; text-decoration: none; font-weight: normal; color: rgb(88, 191, 47);" class="i" title="CenterNetworks - Social Media News, Opinions and Insights" href="">CenterNetworks - Social Media News, Opinions and Insights</a></li>

Again, that is just one line of display. In numbers for geeky types like me, the Blogrolling listing is 207 characters long, and the Google listing is 963 characters long. Before some statistician starts jumping up and down to tell me that I’m not using a full statistical sample, I know that and that I’m sure that the numbers would be different depending on the actual length of the address and name of the blog. However, if you have, say, 50 blogs on your blogroll, using the numbers above, that leads to an extra 37,800 bytes to the load every single person viewing your site has to download. It may not seem like much, especially with broadband being so omnipresent, but over time it does add up.

Not only that, it makes grabbing the HTML quite difficult. The one redeeming feature is that the title and the href properties are right next to each other, at the end of the a tag. However, it’s not the simplest thing to get accomplished.

Some Suggestions

Since this is Google, they’re fairly responsive to suggestions, for the most part, there’s always a great amount of suggestions that people have. Andy Beard has brought up a suggestion about opening up feed lists for wider use. One of Google’s engineers has mentioned that you can get this information, but right now it’s not fully optimized. I don’t think it will take too long for that to get sorted.

I also have a couple of things that, if some Googler would like to maybe take it up and make them options.

Post Time

One of the things that I like about Bloglines is that it will tell you what time the post was made on the blog. However, in Google Reader, you’re told the time that the post was picked up by Reader. It’s a minor pedantic point, but it’s one worth mentioning.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather have the time on the post reflect when it was made instead of, in the instance of some feeds, a bunch of posts all “posted” at the same time.

Rename Tags

While you can easily rename subscriptions, renaming tags is an arduous process. To change the name of a tag, you have to go through the following procedure:

  1. Make a new tag
  2. Assign all subscriptions from the old tag to the new tag
  3. Unassign all subscriptions from the old tag
  4. Delete the old tag

It’s a major hassle, and one which I’ve not taken the time to do. However, I can’t see why you can’t simply go into the Settings, and under Tags, rename the tag. You can do that in Gmail, I can’t see why you can’t in Reader.

Over to you

What suggestions do you have for Google Reader, or for that matter any Google product? Feel free to leave a comment; if you haven’t commented before, it will be held for moderation, and should appear within a few hours of posting.

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