Problems with Google Gears and Google Reader

Album Cover: Sea Change

"How could this love, ever changing, never change the way I feel?"
Beck / Lonesome Tears

Posted on February 21, 2009 10:50 PM in Computers
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

As mentioned previously, my family has flown south to Arizona this weekend to visit family. Thinking I might be sitting on the plane with little to do for nearly three hours (you'd think with a nearly three month old baby flying with me, I'd have plenty to do, but Heidi slept the entire flight), I figured I'd download Google Gears and try to take advantage of offline reading mode in Google Reader to catch up on some feeds.

Last night, as I was packing up and getting things ready, I downloaded and installed the Google Gears add-on for Firefox, restarted the browser, navigated to Google Reader, and clicked the newly visible green icon to synchronize Google Gears with the latest 2,000 feeds (this number is way too low, in my opinion, since I could probably get through closer to 10,000 items in three hours) in my Google Reader account. Feeling confident, I opted out of disconnecting my laptop from its wired connection and testing out the new settings to make sure they worked. You can probably see where this is heading.

Once our flight had reached cruising altitude somewhere over southern Washington this afternoon, I fired up my laptop and opened up Firefox. I typed in, hit Enter, and experienced exactly what anyone would experience with just about any web page when not connected to the Internet. Firefox told me the site could not be reached because an Internet connection was not available. A bit perplexed, I started looking around in the Google Gears settings to see if there was some special way to access Google Reader, since the normal way was proving fruitless. Much to my chagrin, I could not find a "special way," or any way for that matter. I even tried accessing other various Google Reader URIs, hoping that one of them would be the light switch I was looking for, but to no avail. My next step was to shut the laptop down, put it back in its case, and grab the nearest copy of Spirit Magazine.

Having gotten my feet back on the ground and an ethernet cable plugged back into my laptop, I've had a chance to do a little more research into how Google Gears and Google Reader are meant to work. Unfortunately (for me and for them), the results haven't been pretty. First off, it quickly became obvious that I wasn't the first person to have these kinds of issues. What wasn't obvious, especially from what I would consider the official description of the feature, was that a user is actually expected to either leave the web browser running in order to get the offline reading mode to work, or make very careful use of Firefox's session manager to ensure that the very next launch of the browser kicks you into offline reading mode by reloading the same tab in which Google Reader was active before the browser was shut down.

Of course, it took me failing miserably and then doing about a half hour's worth of research online to figure out that these methods might bring more success. I actually tried both and both seemed to work, but these options aren't intuitive at all. To make things worse, when I make use of the session management feature in Firefox to restore the tabs on next launch, only about 5% of the overall user interface ever loads, and it's the portion up top that ends up being pretty useless if your main desire is to actually read some feeds. Better still, when I looked into that particular issue, I found a very recent and active thread that seems to demonstrate two things:

  1. Many people are having this same problem.
  2. The Google Reader team seems to be addressing the problem on an account-by-account basis rather than at a global level that would presumably fix the issue for everyone.

Feelin' my frustration yet?

As things stand now, I haven't yet had a successful experience with reading my feeds in Google Reader while offline. I'm not so sure I ever will, either, given the hoops one appears to have to jump through in order to make that happen. When all is said and done, it seems like yet another reason why Internet access on airplanes makes a lot of sense. Let me access the cloud while amid the clouds, and I'll be a happy man. I just hope you don't think I'm going to shell out $13 for it. Spirit Magazine may be bad, but it's not that bad!


Ryan on February 22, 2009 at 5:12 PM:

I also recently installed gears for Google Reader, which I have slowly been using more and more. I didn't have any issues, but usually I just suspend my laptop with reader open, so that may be why. I will try a test with Gears while offline and let you know how it goes.


Daniel Shaw on February 08, 2010 at 10:57 AM:

Gears - works fine with gmail, but I'm having tons of problems with google calendar offline and google reader too. I'm using the google chrome browser - been this way for the past 2 weeks....


avkxghxt on May 15, 2017 at 5:23 AM:

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