This time last year I wrote a post outlining how online reading patterns had changed over 2010. The habits and products for reading on the Web have continued to evolve over 2011. This year, for example, Google+ arrived on the scene and changed the way many people find and discuss topical articles. We also saw continued innovation in mobile and tablet reading apps.

In this post I identify two key trends in online reading over 2011, plus two main ways that our online reading habits have changed.

Twelve months ago, when reviewing online reading over 2010, I concluded that “consuming content has become a more social, mobile experience.” In particular, I cited the growth of Facebook and Twitter as news consumption services. I also noted that mobile devices, like Android phones and the iPad, had become more widely used for reading. Thanks to Flipboard, Instapaper and other innovative reading apps. On the other hand, RSS Readers declined in importance over 2010.

Remember that the iPad only launched in April 2010 and Flipboard in July. So 2010 really was a turning point in online reading.

Two Key Online Reading Trends in 2011

1. Social networks are even more important now in finding news and articles to read.

Facebook and Twitter were joined this year by Google+, which has become particularly popular as a topic-based social network. Some would argue that Facebook has gone a step too far, with its controversial frictionless sharing features. Regardless, most people these days discover and consume news via the three big social networks.

2. Iterations in iPad and popular reading apps; along with increased competition in both tablet and reading app markets.

Apple released version 2 of the iPad in March. Competition increased though, with other tablet devices making an impact in 2011: such as the Android powered Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom and Amazon’s new Kindle Fire.

Last year’s most popular reading apps, Flipboard and Instapaper, have also seen more competition in 2011. Apps like News 360, News.Me and Read It Later do much the same thing as the two originators, but have gathered strong fan bases of their own.

There has also been a lot of innovation in the type of content we’re reading, for example Tumblr’s curated experience and apps like The Atavist (which mixes multimedia and non-fiction storytelling).

How Our Reading Habits Have Changed Over 2011

1. It’s much more mobile. Smartphones and tablets have improved during 2011; for example, the iPhone now has push notifications for Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and more. Also, as mentioned above, there is plenty more competition now among reading apps targeted to smartphones and tablets.

2. We not only read more, but discuss more, across a wider variety of platforms. Facebook has been the most aggressive social network in integrating news into its service. Media companies such as Washington Post and The Guardian have connected to Facebook so tightly that even the mere fact of clicking on a link to their site sends an update to your Facebook news feed (if you’ve approved the so-called “frictionless sharing” for their app). That’s led to more discussion of news on Facebook. Twitter and Google+ have also become key platforms on which to engage in conversation about news.

Meanwhile media sites and professional blogs have countered by going the other way – they’ve extended their brands to the large social networks, as well as niche ones. For example at ReadWriteWeb we have brand Pages on Facebook and Google+, an official Twitter account with over 1 million followers, and we keep a close eye on and engage in tech communities like Hacker News, Reddit and Digg. Social network activity has increased significantly for us, compared to 2010.

For the consumer, the upshot is that you have more places to read and discuss the latest news of the day or topical articles of interest to you.

How Has Online Reading Changed For You?

Recently we listed the morning routines of the ReadWriteWeb staff. Given our occupations, invariably reading is one of the first activities each of us does. Joe Brockmeier admitted that he “taps into Google Reader and Twitter before even getting out from under the blankets.” Jon Mitchell waits for Twitter push notifications on his iPhone while he brushes his teeth.

As for me, I kick off the day by checking over Next up is email and then the social trio: Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Then I look over RSS feeds using Google Reader and Flipboard. Finally, I check industry specific news aggregators Techmeme and Mediagazer.

Just as important as what I check is what I check it on. I read online more frequently than ever – on computer (in the office or out and about, e.g. in cafes), iPad (when in the lounge or in bed), iPhone (just about everywhere).

So while there are identifiable trends in online reading habits in 2011 (more mobile, more social networking than ever), everyone has a different routine. How has online reading changed or evolved for you over 2011?