Google Reader, the company’s popular RSS feed reading application, is the latest Google app to integrate with the Google Plus social network. Google Reader, which hasn’t been updated in over a year, also received a facelift to match the new, minimalist interface that’s already available for Google Apps, Gmail and other Google services.
The new Google Plus functionality replaces Google Reader’s built-in sharing tools. The old Google Reader “Like” button has been replaced with a “+1″ button, and the “Share” and “Share with Note” features have been replaced with an option to share items with your Google Plus circles.
The sharing changes are good news if you’ve embraced Google Plus. They’re bad news if you haven’t because Google hasn’t just integrated Google Plus into Reader, it’s removed Reader’s functionality in favor of Google Plus.
Google Reader no longer offers friending, following, shared items or comments. Google’s message is pretty simple: The conversation that used to happen on Google Reader will now happen on Google Plus.
The Google Blog says that killing off Google Reader’s original sharing features “helps [Google] focus on fewer areas, and build an even better experience across all of Google.” In the Google universe all sharing will now happen on Google Plus. Google Plus’ primacy is also reflected in the new Reader interface where the “+1″ button is prominently located right next to the star button, while the Twitter and Facebook sharing tools are buried out of sight in the “Send to” drop-down menu.
It’s a smart move for Google — Google Plus needs more content and shared items from Reader means more content on Google Plus — but one that may leave some users in the lurch.
If you were a heavy user of Google Reader’s sharing capabilities, using it, for example, to follow friends and comment on their shared items, the revamped design is going to make you unhappy. To make matters worse Google does not offer an easy way to migrate your data over to Google Plus. That data — your list of friends and followers — is simply gone. Also gone is the list of all the items you ever shared or liked via Google Reader.
There is an option to export your shared and liked items, along with a list of friends and followers, on Google Reader’s settings page, but it comes with a big catch — the export format. There are two options for exporting your old sharing items, a JSON Activity Stream or a custom Google Reader JSON format. Neither format will do you much good. One was made up for Google Reader and the other is not widely used, meaning there isn’t much software out there that can read your exported data. Google likes to pride itself on its data portability, but in this case there’s nowhere to take your data, making Google’s export efforts disingenuous at best.
Of course Google Reader still exports OPML files, so it’s not hard to dump your subscriptions and move to another feed reader if the revamped Google Reader leaves you wanting. In fact, Google even acknowledges that many users may want to do this, reminding you that “if you decide that the product is no longer for you, then please do take advantage of Reader’s subscription export feature.” In other words, if you aren’t jumping on the Google Plus train, Google is no longer interested in you.