Google Reader Widescreen Resolution Usability Enhancement

Google Reader interface when viewed on an ultra widescreen browser resolution
Click to enlarge

Google Reader is a fantastic web based RSS reader and I use it to read a lot of my favourite sites and also as a way to keep abreast what is happening within an industry, such as travel and hospitality.

One of the usability issues that most web designers face these days are with small screens, such as an iPhone or large screens such as 24″ widescreen LCD computer monitors. The obvious reason is that with small screens, a design has very limited screen real estate to work with and must select what information to display very carefully. With large screens, there is an abundance of screen real estate to work with, which under certain conditions and actually lead to usability issues.

Case in point, when you use Google Reader at a more moderate resolution such as 1280×1024, the interface is very usable and everything works as expected. However, if you happen to run a widescreen monitor at 1920×1200, the interface is considerably less usable as it the width of an RSS item suddenly increases by 600px. I find that when I use Google Reader maximised, that I generally find it hard to scan across to the right hand side to click the (>>) icon to open the actual web page that corresponds to the RSS item.

In June 2008, Google launched Gmail Labs – a new style of sub-product which let users suggest ideas and Google engineers contribute small pieces of functionality to Gmail that users could optionally enable or disable at their leisure. Since June 2008, different Gmail Lab features have come and gone, some have been promoted to the main product by default and others haven’t had the uptake and have subsequently been removed.

One particular Gmail Labs feature that I absolutely love is called Move Icon Column. By default, Gmail provides small icons beside certain items in your inbox on the right hand side of the item to provide a visual clue of its contents, such as chat, calendar, Google Buzz or attachment. Just as I highlighted above that ultra wide screen resolutions don’t provide the best usability in Google Reader, the Gmail interface suffered the same issue. Fortunately, Gmail has the Labs functionality and with a few clicks of a mouse button, you can move the icon column from the right to the left and suddenly it doesn’t matter if you’re using a more moderate screen resolution or ultra wide screen.

My suggestion for Google Reader to solve this particular issue is:

  1. Provide Google Reader Labs
  2. Provide Lab feature to move the (>>) on the right to the left

While the Google Reader development team haven’t answered my call for better handling of duplicate RSS items, maybe they are already working on a Lab feature for Google Reader and its on their radar already.