Google Reader, the online RSS feed reader, is a great product, but its ‘Shared Items’ functionality has always seemed a bit crippled. Sure, it was given a social element a while back to show your friends what you like, but it always seemed like there was much more Google could do with that data — such as show users what the most popular shared items were. That is exactly what ReadBurner does.

ReadBurner relaunches today under new management. Adam Ostrow (of Mashable fame), Drew Olanoff (formerly of Pluggd fame) and partner Thomas Connors bought the site from original creator Alex Marktl when he decided to shut it down due to workload.

The site isn’t just back, it’s better.

Along with a new, cleaner interface (that is reminiscent of Digg, as most popularity sites are these days), ReadBurner features a simplified, yet expanded category system. There are now only three main categories: ‘Popular’, ‘Upcoming’, and ‘Most Recent’, but also sub-categories including: ‘Web’, ‘Mobile’, and the all-important ‘Apple’ (at least in terms of buzz).

Related shared items are now grouped under more popular parent stories — this is something Digg should have done ages ago to cut down on the number of duplicate submission that hit the front page. Competitor RSSmeme has similar functionality with its “explore similar stories” option, but ReadBurner’s is more accessible.

ReadBurner has also added comment functionality utilizing Disqus. There is even talk about porting comments left under items on ReadBurner back to the sites from which the story originated. Much like FriendFeed’s recent replay-to-Twitter comment functionality (our coverage), this would be very useful, and would help blunt a growing controversy about where conversations should take place.

One of the most impressive updates, has to be the ability to use Google Reader from within ReadBurner. With the ever-growing number of aggregators and new services coming at us, we will at some point reach a limit in terms of how many applications we are willing to have open at once. Steps like combining Google Reader and ReadBurner will help alleviate this.

ReadBurner also features a “Stats” area for popular sources of stories (here is VentureBeat’s page).

ReadBurner promises to scour for new items and run its algorithms every 30 minutes to keep its pages up-to-date and fresh. It hopes to further improve the algorithms in the future to make new content even more relevent.

If you use Google Reader but haven’t figured out the point of sharing items, ReadBurner may just give you incentive. The stories you find interesting enough to share will help others find and read those stories. Share wisely.

We wrote about ReadBurner in its previous state here.