Official Google Reader Blog - News, Tips and Tricks from the Reader team

Attack of the interns: recommendations and drag-and-drop

11/29/2007 06:39:00 PM
Posted by Steve Goldberg, Engineering Manager

One of the great things about Reader, and feed readers in general, is that they let you follow sites much more efficiently than you could just by visiting them directly. This means that once you get into the flow of it, you can subscribe and keep track of many more sites than before. The problem then becomes: what should you subscribe to? For example, there are millions of blogs, and while a few are well known, there are many more interesting (micro) niche blogs that would be great to subscribe to, if only you could find them.

To help with the discovery of interesting sites to subscribe to, we just released personalized recommendations in Reader. When you visit our discovery page, you'll see quite a few feeds that we think you may find interesting. "Interesting" here is determined by what other feeds you subscribe to. (To learn more about how our recommendations work, see our help article about them). Hopefully you'll find your recommendations interesting and helpful in getting your information-triggered dopamine squirt.

Recommendations make it even easier to subscribe to lots of feeds, so then the question becomes: how do you organize those feeds better? As luck would have it, one of the other features we're announcing today is drag-and-drop support for your subscriptions and folders. You can now easily move feeds between folders, as well as reorder things up and down within the list.

On the right, you can see Mihai's subscription list as he uses drag-and-drop to reorganize his froworkers folder. (Though you may not want to let your friends know how you're ranking then, lest it become a competition.) Of course, we can't take too much credit for drag-and-drop subscription management -- desktop aggregators have had it for a while, as have online feed readers like Bloglines and NewsGator.

What these two features have in common is that (ex-)interns played a significant role in delivering both of them. Nitin Shantharam (UC Irvine) helped create the user interface for recommendations, while Olga Stroilova (MIT) had a hand in the algorithms that generate them. Meanwhile, drag-and-drop was the brainchild of Brad Hawkes (UMass Amherst), who was our intern the summer of 2006, and returned to join the Reader team full-time earlier this year. As RIE (Reader Intern Emeritus), Brad paved the way for the great student help that we've had this year. Also to be mentioned is Jason Hall (Kent State), who was behind many interface improvements that have been live for a few months already. All told, our interns (and ex-interns) have done great work this year!

What do Reader and Heroes have in common?

11/19/2007 01:06:00 PM
Posted by Chris Wetherell, Software Engineer

Working at Google can be a pretty demanding job. But, as any member of the Google Reader team can attest, at least we're not subject to dangling from a harness that's strapped to one of our co-workers while lasers plot the path of massive cranes to swoop around us at high speeds while we're trying to do our job.

A few months ago, thanks to the graciousness of a group of artists, we saw that in person.

Google Reader is created and maintained by a small team of folks who all have a lot on their plates. Occasionally, we need a vacation. But planning a shared experience that's fun for everyone is tricky. Common points among people can be difficult to find -- unless you get lucky and work with a bunch of dorks who like superhero stories.

It turns out that nearly all of us got sucked into Heroes sometime during its first season, and a good friend of mine knows a director who was going to get to shoot an episode. So we asked if we could visit the set for our team's annual offsite. Despite this seeming like a longshot, a trip was arranged and we headed to the Heroes lot for a day of set gawking.

Be forewarned: nerd-level, in-depth pop-culture details to follow.

Our trip was amazing, and we owe a huge thanks to the director, Greg Yaitanes, and his crew, particularly Ben Grayson (whose attention and help made it a memorable day). Greg is a bit of a TV wunderkind -- he's directed many, many shows, including: Lost, Alias, Grey's Anatomy, House M.D., Prison Break, Nip/Tuck, CSI:NY, CSI:Miami, Women's Murder Club, Bones, Commander In Chief, Children of Dune, Las Vegas, V.I.P, and many more. Looking at his resume makes my eyes water, since he's only a few days older than me and he's done so much that it makes me wonder if I'm using my Saturdays really as effectively as I could.

Watching Greg work was enlightening. He let us sit behind him as he directed a few scenes of tonight's "Cautionary Tales" episode. This one was written by Joe Pokaski, who's been behind some of our more favorite recent moments such as Claire's toe-cutting experiment. The first scene we watched being filmed was an in-car scene featuring Sendhil Ramamurthy (Mohinder) and Jack Coleman (Mr. Bennet, "H.R.G") both of whom we got to meet. We can't post spoilers, of course. But they both turned out to be zombie vampire aliens! (Kidding. Or are we...?)

There were surprises for us on set. First, we were treated to personal time with the creative staff, who graciously explained their work and even took us on tours. We walked within and around many of the common sets used on Heroes, including Isaac's loft, the Suresh apartment, the Company, the Dawsons' beautiful and meticulously created New Orleans home, the police department were Matt works -- and we all jockeyed for picture time in front of the ocular on the Deveaux rooftop.

Mid-day, we were surprised by a visit by Tim Kring, who created Heroes and was kind enough to walk us through the editing rooms and even let us sit in on a "spotting" meeting. Spotting, in this case, meant visually evaluating the progress of special effects of a battle scene involving 17th-century Japanese warriors. We also saw early editions of Kristin Bell (Elle) ruthlessly wielding her power.

Tim was forthcoming, honest, direct and a delight to talk shop with. We ended our day by staying out of Ray Liotta's way (he was on the lot for something unrelated to Heroes) and guessing how the season would end. (Asking us would be futile, we don't know -- really!)

No one needed to be that nice to a group of wandering dorks. From craft services to the heads of production, everyone was incredible and it was a team offsite that's going to be tough to top next year.

Attack of the 20%'ers

11/06/2007 05:22:00 PM

At Google, 20% time is core to our culture and today's Reader release incorporates features developed by two engineers in their 20% time. Those two engineers would be us!

Blogroll screenshotSteve Lacey: As a blogger I like to include a blogroll on my site so that friends, family and other readers can take a look at what I like to read. It's also a nice way to give a shout out to the authors of the blogs that I like. However, maintaining a blogroll can be a bit of a pain as your subscriptions ebb and flow.

As a heavy user of Google Reader, I figured that the best way to get a blogroll would be to have Reader generate it for me, based on my subscriptions. This didn't seem to hard, so I chatted to the Reader team and then set about implementing a this feature in my 20% time.

Well, now it's ready for prime time! Head over to the "Tags" section on the settings page, make one of the tags you use for subscriptions public, and click on "add a blogroll to your site." For an example, head over to my personal blog, and you can see my blogroll in action over on the right.

20% time is such a wonderful thing. As well as being able to actually implement my own wishlist in another Google product, I get to play around with technologies that I might not use day-to-day. As a backend engineer, mucking around in frontend code can be refreshing...

iPhone screenshot Dolapo Falola: One of my favorite Google Reader features is the ability to read feeds on my mobile phone. I'm a New Yorker so I'm out and about quite a bit without a computer. Whether it's sitting on a bus or waiting for a table for brunch, Reader provides a way for me to stay informed on news, or to just kill time whenever I can get a cellular or WiFi signal.

As Steve mentioned, 20% time lets Googlers who aren't necessarily working on Reader contribute features. I've been taking advantage of this opportunity to add small (pun intended) features to Google Reader Mobile. Some of the more interesting features I've added are the ability to see trends data on which feeds are viewed on mobile, as well as the ability to change the number of items displayed at once, or disable reformatting linked web sites for mobile phones. The latter in particular is especially useful for iPhone and other smart phones that are capable of properly displaying sites.

This release also includes some additional changes for iPhone users. While the functionality is the same as previous versions, we've changed the user interface to make it easier to navigate and select often-used links. We've also moved the navigational buttons to the top, since it's easy to return to the top of the page by just tapping on the status bar. Enjoy.

It's also probably worth mentioning that as of last week, I'm no longer a 20%'er but a full-fledged 80%'er on the Reader team — working in my 20% time provided me with the perfect way to test the waters and eventually switch projects.