There are some applications I never used or expected to use for more then a few days. And in any given week I try out about 10 – 15 new applications. I do this because I love analyzing and predicting new trends, design patterns, and visualizing work-flows. Usually, I end up with using 0 of these applications after a few months.

Google Reader has stood the test of time and now I use it daily and it’s party of my morning, afternoon, routine. Google Reader is one of these applications. It provides me a window into everything interesting to me. It’s information, knowledge, and power on demand. It is a phenomenal application but it has several flaws and annoyances that hinder my user experience.

For those not familiar with Google Reader, it is a RSS aggregation tool. Basically, every blog I keep track of (some 120+ blogs) is added to a list that then goes out grabs my RSS feeds from all my various sites and puts them in one nice window to read. There are two viewing modes. One is the ability to view the entire RSS text, or I can view the title of the post in a quick list. I personally found viewing all the text at once a much better way to get the maximum amount of valuable knowledge crammed into my brain.

What Makes Google Reader Great?

I never thought this simple application could be so powerful, but I use it every day and in different ways. The application for me has expanded beyond a simple one-sided user experience.

In any given day I may use it for any of these multiple activities:

  • Discovering new blogs and more content in my field
  • Locating new and exciting applications
  • Keeping up with the latest trends
  • Driving adoption of my own blog
  • Research
  • Keeping track of interesting stories
  • An archive..

One of the greatest features I use all the time is archival tagging. I frequently have about 400 posts+ a day to read.  I use the tagging feature to mark research that is relevant to me. For example my tag list contains articles on “CSS Fixes, UX Methods, and my favorite “Web Applications: Category.”  I basically identify new exciting or interesting applications and tag it to the category it belongs.Tag Example

For Example: Application discoveries are tagged as followed:  Web applications social, web applications shopping, web applications crm, etc.(see image to right).   This is a very valuable tool because I may need to view reference applications for ideas, new patterns, etc.  I simply click the tag and BAM! I get to see all blog posts I have ever tagged with this category. Now that is research power in your hands!

What’s Keeping Google Reader From Excellence:

  • A good IPhone application that will synch seamlessly
  • Better management to skip through groups of posts. I generally click the “All” button to read through an entire list of my newest posts. If you close your browser, jump into a new window sometimes the application forgets what is “new.” When you have 400+ posts staring back at you this can be overwhelming. I have to click next 40 times to get through what I’ve seen or already categorized. I want a button next to “next” that allows me to choose the number to skip. IE: Skip 20, 40, 60, 100. That way I can get back to truly reading just the newest posts.
  • The ability to recognize posts that are titled the same and have the same source will eliminate duplicate entries for reading. This generally happens when you subscribe to a RSS blog aggregation site. There tends to be a lot of overlap with blog posts and a way to filter would be awesome.
  • Better ability to connect with fellow bloggers
  • Social grouping abilities (I’m not sure what this would be but it may be neat) Consider I spend a lot of time in this tool compared to facebook, myspace, etc…

What Makes An Application Exceptionally Indispensable

In the case of Google Reader it I can sum it up like this:  The application allows me to expand usage beyond it’s original design. It allows me to adapt it to my own work-flows, patterns, thoughts, ideas and creativity. The indispensable application allows me to use it how I want, when I want and, where I want. ux_reader_curve

The indispensable application is the  simplest invention that allows for uses beyond it’s intended purpose. The application becomes so ubiquitous that we don’t even think about how it works ,we just know that it does work. You never question the wizard behind the curtain who is pulling the levers. You simply accept its ease of use and hope it never changes. That is the challenge we face when building exceptional UI. The search to find that happy medium is the difference between adoption and failure. It’s a hell of a lot easier to find the failures.

Life In The Fast Lane

I’ll leave you with just one more tidbit of information. If you are a UI designer always ask yourself, no matter what application you are building. Would I use this? It doesn’t matter that the application doesn’t personally apply to you. You can still assess the interactions. Is option A too cumbersome for even you to grasp? Is option B time consuming? Does option C have more steps involved, but causes less confusion? Does option D break accessibility? Does option E completely eliminate future steps?  It’s up to you to decide how to drive the experience. After all the user is just along for the ride and they can easily hop a cab, hitch-hike or walk. You you really don’t want them to do that now do you?