Home Google Reader’s New Recommendations Exciting, but Insufficient

Google Reader’s New Recommendations Exciting, but Insufficient

The Google Reader team announced tonight that the wildly popular online feed reader now recommends additional feeds to users based on our subscription lists, web browsing history and “more.”

It’s a very big day for one reason – simple recommendation is the low hanging fruit of data mining. May knowledge workers rejoice. I love information, I love discovering new high-value sources and the signal-to-noise ratio in a good recommendation engine can be a real competitive advantage over those who don’t have access to one. I want to see the era of data get started and I want to see it get started right.

I Thought You Were Going to Recommend Me Some Feeds

That said, I’m not feeling the love here. First, Google Reader seems stuck at 20 recommendations. It’s got 1565 of my RSS subscriptions, thousands of Gmail messages (32k unread ones, in fact), several Google Custom Search Egnines, my GCal life history, search history and more I’m sure – all tied to my Google Account and all it can give me is 20 new sources? I’ve asked others and they aren’t seeing any more. 20 looks like the limit and that’s just silly. There is a world of recommended feeds that Google could suggest based on what it knows about me and what do I get? 20 feeds? (And how many of us just got told we should subscribe to Ross Mayfield’s blog? It’s your lucky day, Ross, I think a lot of us did.)

How about some other Google Readers whose shared items might be of interest to me? How about some cool custom search engines I might like, or iGoogle widgets or public Google calendars that might suit my interests?

I Thought We Were Openly Social

How about some standards-based profiling, using what’s emerging as the leading standard – APML – so I can be treated with the respect I deserve after all the use of Google services I’ve engaged in, instead of being expected to wonder at the marvelous black box that gave me 20 recommendations and no access to my own aggregate data that those recommendations were derived from? How about some of that, Google – that’s what Newsgator and Bloglines are both moving towards. Everyone from OAuth to OpenID likes to say they smelled a fart about Google considering support for their protocol, but here the product has come to market and where’s the communication about our Social reading being Open? I’m not seeing it.

Are You Sure You’d Recommend Adding More Feeds?

Those competitors, especially the Newsgator desktop feed readers, can also handle my 1500+ feeds without crying like a baby. Google Reader gets hung up so often that I wouldn’t use it at all if it weren’t for its having the best mobile interface available. Time and again tonight, in response to my public complaints through other channels, I’m hearing people tell me that products like Newsgator’s and Attensa, desktop apps, are the way to go for heavy feed lifting. I read my most important hundred feeds through othermeans – I need something sturdy for reading everything I’m subscribed to.

These Are Great Problems to Solve

I want a great recommendation engine, in fact I want one on every platform I bring data to. Two years ago I used Furl.net for my social bookmarking and it told me, “based on what you’ve bookmarked, we would recommend you check out the following other Furl users with similar archives…” It recommended people like John Tropea, Amy Gahran, Darlene Fichter and more. Those are librarians and other super-nerds that I still subscribe to today. In a sea of 1500+ RSS feeds they bring me pure gold.

Whether you’re someone concerned about information overload or, like me, you just want more streams of pure gold coming into your inbox – recommendation engines are going to be big in the fast-approaching future. They don’t account for our need to expand our tastes, but they do have huge potential in making our process of discovering more content and sources that we already like – and what’s just a touch different – far more powerful.

This Google Reader announcement is an awful tease, though, and without data portability, improved quality of service and real Social Openness, we’re going to get…

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