Google Reader adds FriendFeed style commenting, and why it could be bad

Google has upgraded the sharing feature in Google Reader to allow for multiple comments on shared items.

The immediate difference for Google Reader users is the addition of a comment option at the bottom of each shared item. Users can leave a comment, and have that comment shared with others within their shared items group. A “switch to comments view” top right allows you to view shared items with comments, including your own items.

Google is pitching the change as delivering “watercooler” discussions to Google Reader

With our new conversation feature, you can have private discussions on shared items with your friends. Now, instead of obsessively asking everyone in your office if they have seen that awesome lego cake article you shared last night, they can tell you how awesome you are, right within Google Reader!

The implementation is a little clunky; for example you now see your own shared items in the Friends shared items view. The commenting takes place at the bottom of the item, despite an original comment left by the person who shared the item appearing at the top.

The implications of the move though could be more serious. Adam Ostrow at Mashable claims that the feature “steals conversations” and so far, he’d be 100% correct. There’s no way to import these comments back into a blog, although a work around may appear via use of the API in the future.

My bigger concern is that in creating a community around full content, Google Reader is reducing the likelihood people will click through to the site featured given readers can now comment inline. The pitch of an RSS reader has always been about allowing people to read your content easily, and hopefully from a publishers perspective, visit your site more regularly as a consequence. For example, previously if I felt opinionated about what I was reading, I’d click through to the site to leave a comment (in fact, I’ve left three comments only this morning on posts initially read in Google Reader.) This move works against that.

In perspective, the threat is small today. The Google Reader shared items is an underused feature, so any effect on site traffic would be small. However, this feature is being offered to make shared items more appealing, and no doubt Google hopes that it will drive high use rates; the more users, the bigger the potential loss.

Imagine for example Google creating a community around newspaper content in this way (actually, newspapers offering full feeds will get caught up as well), and imagine it was on Google News instead. The outcry would be huge, but I digress.

What we may likely see as a result of this move is a shift away from full feeds to part feeds; after all, if Google Reader reduces the desire to visit a site, publishers will look to counter that by trying to force the point. Not a great outcome for end users, but understandable. The other thing that will increase is the use of RSS advertising, because if you’re going to lose page views because people don’t leave Google Reader, you’re going to want to find ways to make money from your content where it is being read. I’ve held out and not run RSS ads so far for The Inquisitr, but I’ll be reviewing that in the next few days.

It could be worse: Google Reader could be running ads against the content like some of the “2.0” services we’ve seen in the last year. Lets hope that’s not the next step.

Louis Gray also has more here.

Update: one note I should have made, while making the comparison to FriendFeed in the comment style, there is a radical difference: FriendFeed doesn’t show the content. A conversation on FriendFeed often results due to people having clicked through and read the content. There’s a real incentive to click through, where as with Google Reader, there isn’t.