Google hunters ferreted out a new feature late last night called Google Shared Stuff. The project is obviously far from ready to ship – but it’s too late to squabble about that now! I’ve got high hopes for social bookmarking in general but this particular project may not be worth your time to check out just yet. To save you the time I’ve kicked the tires and offer below some of the best and worst things about Google Shared Items so far. In the end I’ve got some thoughts about what Google could do with this service to make it the best social bookmarking service available.

The Good News

There are a number of things that Google has done well already. It’s hard not to compare this product to Del.icio.us in particular, the Yahoo! acquired product that most people would agree currently dominates the social bookmarking world.

Compared to Del.icio.us, Google Shared Items has great user profiles. No one fills out their del.icio.us profiles and it always drives me nuts. Google has a nice big profile section that screams out for info about you. See mine here. A photo, multiple links associated with your account and more room for text to describe you are all very nice touches.

There’s no direct access to cached pages. Furl.net offers a personal copy of every page you bookmark, in case it changes or goes away. Google might not want to get into that, but they have a cached copy of all public pages – why not provide me a link inside my bookmark archive?

Speaking of Del.icio.us and Furl, the team behind Google Shared Items is obviously proud of their “support” for tagging items in Del.icio.us, Furl.net, Facebook, Reddit, Digg and SocialPoster. Unfortunately, it doesn’t actually cross post anything, much less to multiple accounts ala OnlyWire. It just links out to your other accounts in a new window. If you want to post to Reddit, you might as well just use a Reddit button and skip Google.

The term label isn’t used, “a historical accident” the Google team recently called it, tags are here to stay. There’s just an empty field for tagging, though. Did I say this was the good news section?

Finally, though the “article preview” button too often doesn’t actually provide a text preview of the article, it is nice. It’s a straight rip-off of Facebook’s image capture feature, allowing you to flip through the images on the page you’re referencing to chose one to associate with that page. To be honest, Facebook borrowed the feature from elsewhere as well.

The Bad News

The worst thing about Google Shared Items is that it doesn’t really work. I know that by now, for example, lots of people in my GMail contacts have saved something using the service. They must have. Yet I only see one person’s single shared item on the page for friends’ items. Likewise, I don’t know how to get to any kind of general page, most popular or anything. I’d guess that Google didn’t want anyone to use this service yet, but it’s live and emailing friends about it is quite prominent.

The private bookmarking option doesn’t appear to work yet and the ability to “preview my shared items page with this item on it” is just silly.

I’m sure all of those things will be fixed. Here are some criticisms with more substance.

There’s no integration with Google Reader Shared Items. Everyone’s mentioned that. There’s also no search. It took years before search was integrated with Google Reader.

There’s no data export. This is an all-too-typical violation of Google’s responsibilities with regard to my data. It’s my data, if the option to take my ball off your field and go home isn’t available – then I’m not even going to start playing.

The metadata is a mess. The RSS feeds look awful. Item descriptions come through as item titles, there’s no easy way to see the actual title of the page or the full URL you’re considering clicking through.

Why is all of this going on outside the existing Google Bookmarks service? Perhaps they will be combined at a later date.

Hopes for the Future

You know what Google could do to absolutely blow everyone else out of the water? They could offer an awesome, cross-site recommendation engine. I’d like Google to look at my bookmarks and tell me what I’m missing that people with similar archives have bookmarked. More than that, I want to know who that I don’t know has interests similar to mine – and I want to know who is the fastest at finding the items that fit those interests.

Finally, if Google’s going to try to play nice with other sites like Del.icio.us, Furl and Facebook (you know all of them are being indexed) then I want these recommendations from users all across all these other sites. Give me that and give me the ability to export my data and I may never use Del.icio.us again. Joshua Schacter, the founder of Del.icio.us, says that a recommendation engine is on its way there (better than before) but who could scale that better than Google?

Summary

All in all, I’m excited that Google is investing more into this space – but it’s a pretty tepid engagement so far. I wouldn’t recommend spending time on the service until something really groundbreaking happens.

marshall kirkpatrick