An Unfinished Theme for Google Reader

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

EverySub for Google Reader

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.

  1. Khoi,

    What’s your opinion, both visually and conceptually, of Shaun Inman’s Fever? I’ve been running Fever for close to 2 years now and love it. It just works, all the time, no fuss, without getting in my way.

  2. I am using this and so far (5 minutes in) it seems lovely. Well done and thank you, Khoi.

    I’ll let you know how it goes.

  3. I totally relate to this comment about RSS…

    YOUR COMMENT— “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.”—

    So why don’t you use the Safari RSS feature?
    I have been foreverЁ it’s straight forward, simple and well designed.

  4. I like it. Nice & clean.

    But, for the way I use Reader, the “Show: / New Items / All Items / Mark All Read / etc.” column is too prominent. I rarely toggle between those categories of posts, use the “Mark All Read” button, etc.

    Also, my eye goes right to the the black box telling me how many unread items there are, a number which is also displayed just to the right in the column showing feeds. That feels redundant.

    Nevertheless, I’m going to stick with this for a while & see how it feels. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Nice to finally see this in the wild, (not just over your shoulder!)

    The one thing that has always irked me about the Google Reader UI (and Helvetireader), is the 100% line measure and tight leading. RSS is a one-column reading experience, but the rest of the web is not — so you either end up putting up with long lines, or a too-narrow browser window.

    I’ve been experimenting with a fork of Helvetireader, but with a more Reeder-like fixed line width. I’m totally going to play with this now.


  6. John: Google Reader’s too-wide line measure (for those not familiar with the term, it means the length of the line or the number of characters that appear on a single line, with fewer characters being more readable) is one of the things we tried to address in EverySub. That’s why we moved the controls for New Items, All Items, Mark All Items etc. to the middle. It allowed us to make narrower columns and therefore shorter line measures. We didn’t totally solve it, but it’s better than the original I think.

  7. I assume you’ve already seen PureReader, but I’m wondering what are your thoughts about it. I have found it so appealing that I’ve almost gave up using Reeder for most of my RSS consumption on the desktop.


  8. Definitely an improvement over the current interface. Sure, there is room for improvement but it’s easier to comment than it is to act 🙂
    Thanks for making this available.

  9. Hi Khoi, I do not know if you intend to continue developing EverySub ? I love it, and was wondering if, instead of the Google Buzz option in sharing individual posts, it would be possible to have a Google+ option

  10. Vineeth: Sorry, no, we probably won’t continue working on this. Anyway, replacing Buzz with Plus would be something that Google would have to do.

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