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Former Google Exec Slams Company's Redesign

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Google Reader users are an impassioned lot.

Small in number but boisterous in support, these "J-clicking" few depend on the RSS feed aggregator as the simplest, quickest, and only way to digest the flood of information that the web disseminates each day. Rather than aimlessly browsing dozens of sites for their news, everything is relegated into one spot -- organized and condensed, ready to be sifted through. Twitter and Facebook shares are fine for some things, but they're not nearly as comprehensive as Google Reader can be.

But this week, as expected, Google hit the beloved RSS aggregator with a redesign, and folks are not happy.

Keeping in line with the Google Docs and Gmail redesign, the layout is now a stark-white negative zone, where empty space abounds. The top and left toolbars squeeze the news -- the most important aspect of the site -- into an even smaller space. Gone are the easy-to-share functions, replaced with a compulsory Google+ button. And the hard-on-the-eyes color scheme makes both skimming and long-term reading more difficult.

Roy Fielding, a scientist at Adobe, took to Google+ to give the company a wry, backhanded compliment for the redesign:

Dear Google,

Thank you for honoring the history of the Web. I warmly remember those days in 1995 when companies used the web for brochure-ware and designed their sites with the top 30% of the browser window entirely occupied by lame marketing logos and rarely-used menu options, the left 30% of the window entirely occupied by a tree of even less used folder categories, and the right 30% of the window entirely occupied by unwanted tips, thereby leaving the reader with two-thirds of a 40% scrollable center column to see the actual page content in some arbitrary font of that site's choosing. Granted, the content may have been the only reason users wanted to visit a site, but trying to find the content made the Web just a little more exciting.

However, while I appreciate the nice gesture in honor of the W3C TPAC meeting this week, I do hope you plan on returning Reader to a somewhat more readable design next week. Reading is, after all, the whole point of using Reader, so maybe you ought to consider that the next time someone suggests a redesign.



But Brian Shih, a former Google exec who actually worked on Google Reader, levied a far more scathing attack against the poor design choices. In a 1,142-word rant that recalls Google engineer Steve Yegge's diatribe against Google+, Shih listed the glaring faults with the new redesign.

"Reader is a product built to consume information, quickly," Shih writes. "We designed it to be very good at that one thing. G+ is an experience built around browsing (similar to Facebook) and socializing. Taking the UI paradigm for G+ and mashing it onto Reader without any apparent regard for the underlying function is awful and it shows."

He attacks the stark color scheme, the bright red "Subscribe" button that sits relatively unused, the broken "Recommended Items" section, and the terrible space allocation. Shih sums up the company's support of Google Reader as "history of neglect."

Between Yegge's Google+ rant, Fielding and Shih's takedown of Google Reader, and the scores of users who will find the Gmail redesign equally ugly -- I'm one of them! -- it's about time Mountain View gives as much thought to aesthetically pleasing design as its number one fruit-based competitor.

(See also: Google Engineer Calls Google+ a Complete Failure and How to Use Siri on Apple's iPhone 4S)

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