Google has announced what is quite possibly the largest update to Google Reader since its inception, bringing an entirely new UI, more keyboard shortcuts, new bookmarklets and a whole lotta results from user feedback to the table. Overall, as a Google Reader fan for some time, I am pleasantly surprised by this wholly positive and usable update, but it isn't without a few confusing quirks.
The first and most noticeable update is the radical change to Google Reader's UI, bringing it more in line with the tried and tested UI of many other online readers, but still with much of the Google engineers' unique genius baked in everywhere. Above you can see Reader has adopted the typical folder/grouping system on the left, while headlines can be listed on the right.
You can also chose to list your feeds and headlines in Expanded view (pictured above), flipping through each one with the traditional Reader and Gmail shortcuts of j/k and n/p. One feature I quickly fell in love with in this new UI is the way the List view allows you to page through headlines and expand individual articles within the list of headlines, like so:
Pressing enter expands a headline like this, while pressing it again collapses it back into uniform with the rest of the listed headlines. What's even nicer is that n/p can be used in the list view like this, allowing you scroll through headlines without expanding them, while j/k let you expand each headline in place like I have pictured above - it's your choice, and I thoroughly appreciate this flexibility, as it feels a lot more useful than my reigning champion RSS reader - NetNewsWire (Mac only).
Moving beyond the new UI however, Google has worked in a lot of smaller but welcome changes, such as a 'mark all as read' button, unread counts for folders and feeds, new keyboard shortcuts (including new ones for navigating feeds, tags and folders), an automatically generated HTML page for shared items (in addition to the RSS feed) for a sort of basic blog/linked list, a set of new bookmarklets, a nd much more. However, with all this new goodness, there are still a couple of kinks to iron out, and it's a good thing they're encouraging feedback. For example: with the transition, Reader seems to build a user's set of folders/groups from their tagging structure, but the tagging system still exists for organizing feeds and headlines, in addition to the new foldering scheme for feeds. Pressing g + l to invoke the label selector (though 'labels' are now called 'tags' in the Settings) brings up a list of labels/tags, but selecting one actually choses a folder in the left column. Confused yet? Me too.
Another longstanding gripe still hasn't been resolved with this new update: support for authenticated fe eds. I'm sure the majority of the news outlets and blogospheres aren't picking up authentication like a hot celebrity-inspired fad, but I have a couple feeds for which I (believe it or not) pay for, and I'd love it if they could join the Google Reader party with the rest of my 300+ feeds.
Aside from a few gotchas like this, which I'll chalk up to a beta app taking a huge beta step, I honestly can't say enough good things about this most major of updates. The revamped UI feels zippy, responsive and fundamentally more mature. Their already logical system of keyboard shortcuts has naturally evolved for the new features, and I can sincerely recommend Google Reader as a serious competitor for other online RSS services, and even traditionally more robust desktop apps. For more details on what's new, check out the announcements on the official Google and Google Reader blogs, or dive in yourself.