Google Reader’s “Friends’ shared items” feature has always had a lot of promise, unfortunately, it was also very flawed. The problem was in the way Google handled your “friends,” who in fact, may have not been friends at all, but just someone who you’ve talked to over email a few times. Today, Google finally fixed this problem for good.
As I wrote back in December:
It’s a simple fix, just allow users to opt to manually manage their lists with regards to adding and removing ‘friends’.
Now, you can do just that. Google has added the ability to completely control which friends you share RSS feed reader items with, as the company details on the Google Reader Blog. This interaction is handled separately from your Gmail contacts and works much more like other social services. You can choose to share items with select contacts, those contacts get an email that you are sharing with them and can decide whether or not to share their items with you.
While Google Reader is a great product simply as an RSS reader, it’s the social features that can take it to the next level. Thanks to Google’s inability to get it right thus far, other services like FriendFeed have handled the social elements of shared items much better.
ReadBurner and RSSmeme are two others that expand upon Google Reader’s sharing functionality by showing you the most popular shared items on the service. Confusingly, this is another social aspect Google has yet to implement in Reader. I suspect that will change as well in the coming months.
Google also recently changed the way Gmail contacts are organized to simplify the area for users. It now separates contacts that you email frequently from those you have actually decided to add to your contact list. Previously, this move was automatic — which, working in tech journalism gave me several hundred friends that I have never and will likely never actually meet.