Your 46894 shared items are public – Why i care about the announced Google Reader changes

Google recently announced that it is going to make  some changes to Google Reader in a Blog Post called: Upcoming changes to Reader: a new look, new Google+ features, and some clean-up. My initial reaction was the following tweet:

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I am not amused, may be to the extend that i might fall under the category of people that are characterized in that Google post as:

We recognize, however, that some of you may feel like the product is no longer for you.

Right now, i’m actively thinking about alternative solutions. And i’m not the only one.  Not surprisingly  the one’s that are complaining are the most avid users. And what they are telling is mostly the same.

For example Sarah Perez from TechCrunch (emphasis mine):

Although there are many other services out there that promise to bubble up relevant content based on my interests, the best product I’ve used to date was the human curation of my Google Reader friends. Not only did my group consistently share the top tech news I’d want to read, they also share those oddball but interesting stories from outside of tech, including humorous cartoons, popular videos, space and science news, parenting tips and other news completely unrelated to tech, but still compelling.

Or E.D. Kain from (emphasis also mine):

For one thing, Reader is only sort of a social network. In many senses it’s ananti-social network. Not in the sense that people in Reader are anti-social so much as the point is to harbor a small enclave of carefully selected people and create a safe-haven of sorts where that “carefully constructed human curated” list of shares and insights can flourish. In Reader, you don’t go after as many friends as possible. You certainly don’t see anyone from high school. Nobody shares photos of their kids. The discussions that do blossom are almost always very smart and focused. It’s the internet if the world were a more prefect place.

Or Courtney Stantons post:

 I like that the primary verb of gReader is “share” – but not about you; about content that’s meaningful to you. I like that I have to click on a specific tab in order to get the little window that allows me to post only about myself.

My motivation for “human curation”

This brings me to the reason why i’m upset about the changes. The title of the post already says why. For me Google reader is THE essential tool for reading news, as well as a long running experiment in human curation. But from the sending side, not the receiving.

I’m a long time RSS-Feed reader and switched to Google Reader because i was able to access my feeds from multiple computers without losing sync of the read items. I then discovered the productivity gains of the keyboard shortcuts and the shared item feed.

At that point i decided to share all the posts that i  found interesting via Shift-S. Interesting in an impartial sense, e.g. providing useful or meaningful information, looking at some topic from an  interesting / different angle etc.

While the primary impetus for doing so was being able to access these items  more easily and being able to archive them via another client, early on i also decided to make all shares public to everybody. First and foremost because i wanted to have as little as possible overhead while reading. But also out of curiosity if somebody would discover this “human curated” feed and would find it useful.

Over the time quite a number of my colleagues found it (ok, i stopped sending separate emails about interested stuff and directed them at my sgared item feed). But after Google started it’S recommendation engine, quite a number of Google Reader users are following my feed and there is a small but dedicated number of  subscribers via other feed readers (as my Logfile shows).All in all im absolutely sure that my shared item feed has more readers than this blog.

On moving to plus

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It should be clear now that for me sharing on Google Reader is about curation or if you prefer another, more humble term, about filtering. It is not about liking, agreeing or recommending. Hence i always struggled with the german translation of Sharin within Google Reader: “Empfehlen”, which backtranslates to “Recommend”.

Google is saying that my shares on Google Reader will be changed into +1. Looking at the presumed place, the plusones section of my profile (still empty) if find the following text:

Your +1’s appear here. +1 the things around the web you like, agree with, or want to recommend to others.

And here we are at the heart of the problem. No: I neither like, agrre with or recommend these things. I simply share them. Some of you might think i’m nitpicking. May be i am. But my background in Knowledge Representtation and AI as well as my common sense want to separate my social  “human curation”  activities, from my recommendations, likes, opinions and emotions.

I tried to summarize all this in the following tweet:

What’s next?

These  latter social activities are right now mostly happening on this blog and on Twitter (both for opionion andemotion) as well as my bookmark account (basically recommendations of technical things).

Recently switched from delicious to for basically the same reasons. I thought the changes especially in the T & C introduced by the new ownership were ridiculous and switched to another service where i’m more in control. But i habd plenty of time doing so. Yahoo announced that they were retiring delicious last December, and the switch to the new t&C was enforced only recently.

Google instead is giving only one week advance notice. This is definitely too short to come up with a soltuion for the third party providers that are using the inofficial Google Reader API. The one i care most about is Reeder, because it allows me to read (and easily share) on my iPad. Hopefully it will at least will work in reading mode after the changes.

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Even if an official API would be announced today and implemented by Silvio Rizzi in an instant, it would take a weeks time until the new app in the app store. So opefully Google is going to keep the inofficial API around , maybe even announce an official one.

In the meantime i’m going to look for a short-term workaround to sharing via send_to (at the moment either to pinboard, readability or to my own server). May be i’m reverting to the fever installation on my own server but then i would loose the iPad connectivity via Reeder. Supporting Fever and other services is supposedly on Silvio’s list. But this will definitely take some time

I’ll keep you posted.

P.S: This is the first post in which i’m using Blackbird Pie for embedding Tweets. Works like a charm. Highly recommended.