Google Reader's New "Liking" Feature

Album Cover: Wincing the Night Away

"It's like I'm perched on the handlebars of a blind man's bike."
The Shins / Spilt Needles

Posted on August 02, 2009 6:59 PM in Blogging
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.

I was a bit surprised to read on TechCrunch that there seems to be quite a lot of people opposed to Google Reader's new liking feature.

First off, I think it's totally reasonable for users to want the option to turn a new feature like that off, but it really isn't that big a deal when it's on, even if you don't use or care about it. I read a whole lot of feeds, and I haven't had any issue with it.

I see the whole "liking" concept in a whole different way, though. Right now, the feature is exposed in such a way that it seems to assume that readers care how many other people liked a particular post. For users who prefer to skim feeds and only read the most interesting articles, I can see how this use of the feature might come in really handy. In the longer term, though, I actually think what you like will become way more important than what others like.

Why? Let's go back to April of 2006 when I said the following:

Let's say [my feed reader] allowed me to give each post I read an optional "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" (similarly to how user comments are now handled over at Digg). That would teach my feed reader my reading habits over time. When these habits are better understood, it wouldn't be unreasonable to automatically hide posts from the feed that probably aren't of interest to me, or at least make them less visible so skimming through a long list of posts would become more manageable.

The optimistic side of me is really hoping that the Google Reader folks are taking this use case into consideration. The realistic side, though, figures this is just an attempt to add more social aspects to Google Reader, just as TechCrunch has surmised.

I'd love to think that someone is finally laying the groundwork for Feed Reading Optimization (FRO - coined it!), but based on past experience, I won't be holding my breath.

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