Dressing Up Google Reader With Feed Squares – Review

It’s no secret that I’m a Feedly fan and have been for a long time. All the same, when I found out that there was a new Google Reader interface called FeedSquares (available for Android and Chrome), I decided to give it a spin. I installed the Chrome version.

First Impressions

Once I installed the extension and clicked on the icon, I got a nice bunch of colored squares representing my feeds from Google Reader.  I assumed that the feeds in the middle of the screen (in shades of red, orange and magenta) were hot (i.e. recently updated), while those in blue were not, but that impression didn’t hold up for long.  As it turned out, frequently visited feeds are clustered in the middle of the screen, though there were quite a few I read regularly that had migrated to the edges.

Each square had a number in the top right hand corner indicating the number of unread items, but I headed right for the ‘top picks’ square, which showcased recently updated feed items. When I clicked on an item, I saw the whole thing inline (provided the blogger had provided full feeds) as well as options to star, like, share, share with note, keep unread and view the original post. There were also buttons for easy sharing on Buzz, Twitter and Facebook. Links on Twitter are shortened with Google and include via @feedsquares at the end. Finally, each post showed any tags you could use and you could add tags simply by clicking on what was there. So far so good.

Digging Deeper

Having explored the top picks, I then looked at some of the other feeds. Clicking on a square brought up a scrollable set of post squares (left to right). These are quite attractive, featuring photo thumbnails. but the rectangles are greyed out if  the items are old. Anything that you haven’t seen appears in a green rectangle if it’s within the last few hours, or a sepia/mustard rectangle if it’s sooner than that.

Half hidden under the squares in the main interface are a few links which give access to other options, such as:

  • deciding whether to show read items or not
  • how items should be marked as read
  • switching from the default light background to a dark one
  • adding squares for starred and shared items
  • marking all as read.

You can also select your folders (in a list along the top) to see only the feeds in a particular folder.

What’s Missing

If you look at the Rocket in a Bottle bog, there are three main requests from users:

  • keyboard shortcuts (coming soon, say the developers)
  • the ability to display only unread items
  • more intuitive color coding (I’d like to see this too)

Some would also like the ability to drag and drop squares, though that didn’t bother me much

The Verdict

Will I use it? My gut feeling after using it for one day is that I probably won’t use it much until it acquires some more polish. Anything that makes Google Reader look better is great, but looks aren’t everything. Functionality counts, and some  I don’t think it enhances my user experience in the same way as something like Feedly.

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