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12/9/2011
02:31 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
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Google Currents: Another Half-Baked Google Launch

Google debuted digital reader Google Currents Thursday. My verdict: It's no Flipboard.

I consume a ridiculous amount of content each day. My daily driver for collecting information is Google Reader, the RSS tool. I live and die by Google Reader, but every now and then I want to consume Web content in a form that's more attractive and more apt to get me to explore stories I might not otherwise click on.

Two tools help me do that: Flipboard and Pulse. Both readers are excellent at repackaging Web content in an attractive, easy-to-use format that makes sense and is enjoyable to use. They work well, they are stable, and they are engaging.

Google Currents looks to take on Flipboard and Pulse in the Google fashion.

It fails miserably, and here's why.

[ Google's been busy shuttering its underwhelming ventures. See Google's Graveyard: Dead Products Of 2011. ]

When you first open Google Currents, you have to sign in with your Google account and swipe your way through a little tutorial before you get to the home page. The home page is 50% rotating photos, and 50% links to your favorite content sources. (Google preloads a few sources, but I didn't care for them and deleted them all.)

Using the settings tools, I attempted to add more content sources to my home page. Despite my efforts, only about half of the selections I made ever appeared on the home page. Even though the tools told me that the content sources I picked had been added to my library, they were unavailable to me.

Of the sources that did load onto my home screen, the thumbnails for about a third of them remained blank, leaving gaping holes in the layout (despite multiple refreshes and a reboot). It doesn't work, and because it doesn't work, it doesn't look good.

Then there's the content. One of the sources available was among my favorites: Rolling Stone magazine. I happily added that to my content library. Thankfully, it was one of the few that actually showed up on the home screen. I clicked on it to see what was new in the land of music and celebrity--only to find that the stories in the feed hadn't been updated since November 9. No matter what I did with it, I couldn't get the most recent stories to file into the Google Currents app. (Meanwhile, Flipboard loaded all of Rolling Stone's most recent content in an instant.)

Broken functionality isn't a great way to convince people to use your product.

I subscribed to another favorite magazine in Google Currents, Guitar World. Though Guitar World offered plenty of recent content, much of it only displayed the first paragraph and then a link to the subscription page for the actual magazine (you know, the one you have to pay to have delivered to your house by the postal service). That's lame.

Back to the home page for a moment. As I noted, the other half is a rotating collage of photos. Generally, the photos are batched around a specific topic, which can be clicked on at the bottom of the page. The problem is, the photos are seemingly pulled in from random sources, and there are often duplicates, and plenty of awful, low-resolution photos plastered together in unorganized clumps. The mix of low-quality images is enough to turn me off, but the incongruity of how they are collected and assembled makes it look like a high school social studies project gone awry.

Sharing is also completely borked. Google Currents is supposed to play nice with Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and other social networks. In reality, it works only about 50% of the time. Facebook flat-out won't complete the sign-in permissions process, completely negating its usefulness. I was able to get Currents and Tumblr to talk, but posts that I shared from Currents to Tumblr took more than an hour to show up. I could go on, you get the point.

Last, the trending stories feature that's on the home page. It lets you subscribe to top stories in a handful of topics culled from across the Web, such as sports, world news, entertainment, and so on. These trending stories don't update consistently, and you're often left starting at the same collection of five stories for hours on end.

As with too many other Google products before it, Google Currents feels like it is half complete. Though I don't see the "beta" tag on it anywhere, clearly there's work to be done to iron out tons of bugs and clean up the design a bit.

Until Google does that, I'll stick with Flipboard and Pulse on my mobile devices.

(By the way, I tested Google Currents on an iPhone, iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and Galaxy Nexus.)

Database access controls keep information out of the wrong hands. Limit who sees what to stop leaks--accidental and otherwise. Also in the new, all-digital Dark Reading supplement: Why user provisioning isn't as simple as it sounds. Download the supplement now. (Free registration required.)

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