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Google tries to make its RSS reader fun, too

The Net giant unveils Google Reader Play, an attempt to put an easy-to-use, entertaining interface on its feed-reader Web application

A view of Google Reader Play.
A view of Google Reader Play. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

I've happily used RSS readers for years, but I'm not only an information junkie, I'm a professional information junkie. But I'm one of those people who sees the technology as appealing to techno-savvy folks rather than the mainstream. It's much easier to type a Web address than to understand and manage Managing Really Simple Syndication and Atom subscriptions.

So I was intrigued to see a Google Labs effort called Google Reader Play that in my opinion succeeds, at least partially, in making this technology more approachable. It wraps the reader experience in a full-screen view with a filmstrip of thumbnails across the bottom that are easily navigated by pointing and clicking.

For those of you who have Google Reader accounts already, don't expect a new view of your existing feeds. Instead, Google Reader Play draws its content from the aggregate recommendations of Google Reader users, according to a Wednesday blog post by Google's Garrett Wu.

In my test, that meant the service showed a lot of nerd humor, insightful graphs, pithy quotations, and videos that appeal to adolescent males. I only saw two cat photos and one slow-motion dog video in my tests this morning.

You can star, like, and share items.
You can star, like, and share items. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The service doesn't require a login, which makes it much more approachable, but if you do use your Google account it will adjust to what you say you prefer by clicking a "like" icon. I'm not sure how fast the system learns, but it did seem to shift more toward material I had an interest in. Perhaps it'll adjust more with time, though, since I seemed somewhat inundated with beard and moustache items after I said I liked the Humunga Stache dog-ball moustache.

Overall, Google Reader Play was a good way to find entertaining Net memes (as if I had a shortage) and engaging material I hadn't been aware of before--for example, Beautiful Decay magazine.

If you're logged in you also can use icons for starring an item for future reference and sharing an item with people who follow you. That means, for example, that your shared items can appear in your Buzz updates.

I found the navigation a bit muddling, though. I had trouble in some cases popping out of the reader to see the original entry. And when I delved in to explore the Beautiful Decay feed, I found that the only way to get back out was just to back up through the items I'd seen.

Overall, though, I think it's a nice service.