Google Reader – there’s just not enough hours in the day

January 5, 2007 – 6:27 pm | by Benjamin Watt

Since I started using Google Reader back in early October, it’s become a regular port of call whenever I’ve got time to browse the Internet each day. As Google Reader has improved over the months, with the odd new feature and stability improvements, so too have I added subscriptions to various web pages I want to keep an eye on. But in turn, the number of posts I’m faced with every time I pull up Google Reader have risen to epic proportions – every morning I discover that bloggers and not-so-bloggers have been updating their sites with new postings all night, ready for me to spend the rest of the day trying desperately to flick through them all and get the number of new posts down to zero.

It never happens. Quicker than I can flick through and decide that the hundreds of new items that have appeared are largely not that interesting, more new posts appear. And then more, and more. Obviously the only true way to cut all this down is to remove some of your subscriptions altogether, but then every subscription I have will from time to time throw up something that actually I DO want to read.

Google doesn’t really have an answer for this eternal problem, but as of yesterday morning when I logged in as usual – what they HAVE done is come up with a rather nice new feature that actually just shows that the problem was even larger than I thought, and also kind of hints at where the future may lie in at least reducing the problem – Google Reader Trends. Google Reader can tell me all about my reading habits: when I mostly read items, which sites are updated most frequently, how many of the posts I actually read (not so useful, as I flick through them all eventually), and which of my subscriptions to sites have sat there largely inactive for extended periods of time. There’s even a nice little tag cloud showing what the most common post tags are in all my subscriptions, and how many of these sort of items I actually read.

So what did it tell me? Well apparently for starters, “From your 219 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 10,565 items, starred 1 items, and shared 1 items”. Turns out I have way more subscriptions than I thought I did, and they generated ten and a half thousand items – yikes. Now, obviously if I really had read all 10,565 items I wouldn’t really have had much time for anything else in my life. But even if you suppose that I only briefly flicked my eyes over most items as I tried to fly through them finding something of interesting, that’s still a heck of a lot of time spent just trying to keep on top of what’s going on in the 219 little worlds I decided to keep track of.

The new Trends area also shows me the odd spikes in days where I ‘read’ more items than usual over the last 30 days – I can pretty quickly spot the days when I returned from being away for a weekend, or when I wasn’t near an Internet connection for awhile. It takes me days to catch up, as more items pile up.

Finally, apparently Thursday is the most popular day of the week for me to read lots of items, and I’m most likely to try and read my subscriptions at lunchtime, or between 5 and 6pm – presumably when I’m waiting for a lift home from work, and need to kill time. I’ve apparently never read an item on Google Reader from midnight through to about 6am, and also very rarely have looked at anything between 8am and 9am (either asleep, still waking up, or going to work I guess).

So how does this all really help me? Well, as it currently stands – not a lot. I mean, it can show me exactly what the biggest offenders are for sheer number of posts should I choose to nuke some of them, and it can show me lots of things I didn’t know about my habits, but I’m probably wasting even more time now on Google Reader, because I’m also looking at my Trends now too.

What I’m more interested in is what this potentially could become. Many people are predicting Google Reader could morph into a digg like site where people can view the most read items by everyone on Google Reader, which while nice, I’d rather see it go in another direction. Down the line in fact, I’d far sooner see Google Reader try and predict what kind of stuff I’m actually most likely to want to read based on my habits so far. Did I just flick past a given type of item with barely a glance, did I click a link to certain types of sites from within an item, and what sort of posts do I spend the most time reading? If it knows that, perhaps Google Reader can also help me find the good stuff in amongst the crap, and perhaps I can stop wasting so much time trying to find it myself.

Still, for now it could be worse – Robert Scoble of Podtech has 483 feeds, and read 25,185 items in the last 30 days – clearly I don’t know I’m born.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Google Reader – there’s just not enough hours in the day”

  2. By Chris Saad on Jan 6, 2007 | Reply

    Benjamin – I know your pain. We are trying to solve it with an app we’re building called Touchstone.

    I have posted about the reader stats and how it relates to Touchstone here – check it out I’d love to hear what you think!

  3. By benwatt on Jan 6, 2007 | Reply

    Sounds like you guys are on the right track, and a lot further down it than Google seem to be so far – I hadn’t heard of Touchstone, but from reading it’s certainly peaked my interest.

    I’ve subscribed to your mailing list, wouldn’t mind giving your alpha version of Touchstone a run around the block!

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