Forget the half-baked Google+, which doesn’t even have RSS: use Delicious to share links from Google Reader

Two weeks ago, loyal Google Reader fans were disappointed to learn that link sharing would be discontinued on that service and they would instead have the option of sharing content on their Google+ profiles. This was to be expected as it didn’t make sense for Google to maintain two separate processes for exactly the same function. It confronted me with a slight difficulty, as I’d been using Google Reader Shared Items to share links I didn’t tweet, either because they didn’t require a comment or because I didn’t want to flood my Twitter followers with too many updates on relatively trivial matters. Because I like to control my data, I also consolidate all my links in my own links page, meaning I wasn’t caught scrambling to export my Google Reader links when they suddenly decided to pull the service.

While I have my reservations about Google+, I’d have been happy to use it for sharing links if I had been provided with an easy way of doing so. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, for two reasons.

Google+ is a totally closed platform—in both directions: inward and outward.

There’s no way of importing anything into Google+ [i]. In contrast to the ill-fated Buzz, which you could set to import feeds from other social networks, there’s zero life streaming functionality in Google+ You can’t import your Twitter, Flickr or Facebook; Incredibly, there isn’t yet a Google+ API, although there is an unofficial API, that you can use to fetch public data. It’s something to play around with while we’re waiting for the full official API from Google.

Likewise, and even more astonishingly, there’s no RSS feed for your Google+ feed. I was so surprised when I discovered this I thought I must have overlooked something: but, no, you can post anything you like, manually, to your Google+ account, but anyone who wants to read it has to visit your actual Google+ account, otherwise there’s no way you can get it to them.

This sounds either incredibly amateurish—given the resources that Google has at its disposal and the fact that it regards Google+ as its strategic priority of the moment—or incredibly arrogant, if it’s something that Google is doing deliberately: seriously expecting users to interact only within the confines of Google’s walled garden, as if their web presence elsewhere counted for nothing. Whatever the reason, if that is where Google is heading, it is effectively trying to resurrect the notion of closed ‘portals’ brought to us in the 1990s by the likes of AOL or Yahoo—and that strategy is bound to fail. It’s totally absurd of Google to seriously imagine google+ users will actually spend their entire time online exclusively on Google+, manually updating their profiles with everything they want to share online. That’s just not how the internet works in 2011. Google+ looks increasingly, as one popular online metaphor puts it, like a gym membership: everyone joins, but no one actually uses it.

Secondly, I never actually access my Google Reader using the web interface. While the recent design improvements have helped and it is no longer an ergonomic disaster, I have always treated Google Reader as a server—incredibly powerful and reliable, but only worth accessing using a third-party client. And unfortunately, because Google hasn’t bothered to provide a proper API, the developer of the third-party client I use, Reeder, can’t offer Google+ as a sharing option in his application. This may happen in the future, but that’s not something one can rely on. So one is left looking for another solution.

You can’t even give your Google+ account a name

There’s a final, pretty major flaw in Google+: in contrast to Facebook and Twitter, which both allow you to choose a username (I’m donaldjenkins on both) you can’t give your Google+ account a name. The reason for this is both trivial and not easily solved: all Google products are tied to a Gmail account and your username on all of them, so far, has been your Gmail login credentials. But when Buzz was launched, Google realized that using your Gmail login to identify you on the service meant exposing your email address. The solution, of course, would to do what most platforms do and de-couple usernames and email addresses—but for some reason Goggle seems unable or unwilling to do this, leaving us stuck with Google+ accounts that are impossible to remember: i for instance am https://plus.google.com/110979090137100767549/—about as user-unfriendly as you can get. I’ve got round the limitation, to the extent that I can, by by adding a line to my server’s .htaccess file:

Redirect 301 /+ https://plus.google.com/YOUR_ID_HERE/

meaning my Google+ profile can now be reached by just going to http://donaldjenkins.com/+/—but that doesn’t solve the actual issue of Google+ having no account name at all, and most users would be sufficiently tech-minded to do this anyway.

Basically, for all these reasons, Google+ is a half-baked platform that is totally unsuited to replacing Google Reader for sharing links.

Delicious, recently rescued from Yahoo by the founders of Youtube, is a site specifically made to easily store and share links: either via a beautifully-designed web interface or using RSS for outward sharing and a powerful API for storing links from Google Reader via Reeder

Enter—or rather, re-enter—Delicious. For those of my readers who were still in swaddling clothes at the time, Delicious is the world’s oldest link sharing site: it was founded by Joshua Schachter in 2003 and—most unfortunately, as it turned out—acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. By the end of 2008, the service claimed more than 5.3 million users and 180 million unique bookmarked URLs.

Yahoo’s stewardship of delicious proved near-fatal to the service, as it did to pretty well all of its acquisitions: after six years of having done nothing with it, Delicious had sunk into oblivion—I, like many others, had stopped using it altogether ages ago. Then on April 27, 2011, Delicious announced the site was sold to Avos Systems, and on September 27, 2011, Delicious launched its completely new version 3.0 design in beta. Existing users were pretty displeased with the way in which the transition was handled and most commenters felt that Avos hadn’t realised it was dealing with a live product, not a new one, but I wasn’t one of them, as I hadn’t used it for years and wanted a completely clean slate anyway.

You can of course use Delicious as an all-purpose link storage and sharing repository: you have the option to save public and private links. I’ll only be using to share links publicly, as I prefer storing my private links in Evernote (which primarily serves as an account where you can dump and remember everything—but which also offers public link sharing, but in a much less attractive form than Delicious).

Setting up Reeder to share on Delicious
Delicious was always one of the services to which you could send links from the Reeder clients (for Mac, the iPhone and the iPad), using your Google Reader account, providing a perfect, easy-to-set-up substitute for the defunct Google Reader Shared Items.

Setting up Delicious to share links from Google Reader couldn’t have been simpler:

  • I enabled Delicious as one of the active services on my Mac, iPhone and iPad Reeder clients;
  • I added the RSS for my Delicious links to automatically import to my links page.

Of course, you can always send links from Google Reader to Delicious in the web interface if you prefer using it: it’s one of the services available that you can add in the Google Reader settings.

Given the incredibly slipshod manner in which Google+ has been designed, I doubt more than ever that it will ever take off: if feed importing, RSS and an API worthy of the name eventually see the light of day, i expect the developer of Reeder to add it to the list of services you can share to on his excellent Reader clients; until this happens, I have a perfectly viable alternative in Delicious.

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  1. Except Instagram images using this workaround. []