As I wrote yesterday, I’m encouraged by the recent design improvements that Google has made in its products, especially its new Gmail theme. I’m assuming — hoping — that Google will apply this new sensibility to its many other products too.
Number one on my list would be a refresh of the interface for Google Reader. Yes, I’m one of the diminishing devotees of RSS. Every morning and many, many times throughout the day (and often in the middle of the night when besieged by insomnia, too) I check the copious feeds that I’ve collected over the years, devouring all manner of updates from all corners of the Interweb. They’re a critical source of news, information, education and entertainment for me.
Lipsticking a Pig
So obviously, I depend on Google Reader heavily, and I’ve even become very fond of the way it works. This in spite of the fact that I’ve always found its interface to be pretty ugly. In a way it’s classic Google: cramped, awkward and incredibly wonky, but it works really well.
I even tried to solve this problem myself, in collaboration with my friend Erin Sparling. About two years ago, he and I started working on a theme for Google Reader that we call EverySub. (Erin’s brother recently suggested that we rename it Google-, which I thought was pretty good.) It’s a Greasemonkey script that overrides Google Reader’s native presentation layer for a result that looks not coincidentally like Subtraction.com:
This was a project that we did in our spare time, so work on it happened sporadically over the past two years. It didn’t take long for us to get it into a pretty usable state, though, and in fact I have been happily using it every day for quite some time now.
However, hacking away at random intervals on a skin for an app as intricate as Google Reader is a great way to get involved in a project that you’ll probably never finish. In truth the theme is really nowhere near done, as it suffers from a handful of minor display bugs and a lengthy list of incomplete design states. There are a million little details within the app that any skin designer would need to tackle, and we’ve covered barely half of them.
Still, as I said, in its current state EverySub is usable if incomplete. If you want to try it for yourself (and you have Greasemonkey installed in Firefox, or GreaseKit for Safari, or you’re using Google Chrome), it’s available to everyone for free at at this link. If in fact you do give it a spin, please let us know in the comments below what you think — but also keep in mind that we offer this with no support and no warranty, so you’re on your own if you use it.
Though I would be delighted to actually finish work on EverySub one day, out of pragmatism I must admit it’s a losing battle to try and keep up with all of the code changes that the Google Reader team periodically make to the product, especially given the scant little time that Erin and I can find to work on it.
That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about Google’s new design direction. Hopefully, before too long, Google Reader will look as good or even better than this by default.