Thursday, August 03, 2017

Giving Up on Google Feed

A few years ago after I got a new phone, I kept getting hit up with messages prompting me to turn on a new feature called Google Now. I tried it for a little while, but it seemed mostly like one of those gee whiz features that isn't really very useful. So I turned it off.

A few months later after repeated pestering I turned Google Now on again. Improvements had been made and it at least seemed marginally useful. So I kept it around. Over time the app learned to present more of what I wanted to see and less of what I didn't care about. I kept thinking that I'd turn the app off, but then I found myself using it more and more. Features seemed to improve over time as well.

Here are some of the things I liked about the Google Now feed:
  • A notification would pop up when a it found a significant number of new stories that might interest me. I usually only was notified once or twice each day. If I didn't want to look at the cards right then I could simply swipe the notification away.
  • It was easy to swipe away cards I had finished with or that didn't interest me at the moment.
  • My feed usually only presented about dozen or so cards at a time, so it was manageable.
  • Tapping on a card took me to an article. When I was done with the article I could hit return and go back to the same point I was at in the feed before going to the story.
  • The feed was informed by my Google search patterns, which reflect my software development career. So I was regularly presented with interesting tidbits for which I didn't specifically search but that were both intriguing and useful on the job.
  • The feed was relatively unobtrusive. It didn't demand much of me but it was there when I wanted to use it.
It seems that Google intended users to go to Google Now instead of social media apps as their main news interface. At least, I seemed to be going that direction. Until a few months ago when the app started to become less useful for me.

First my app notification went away. Then it was replaced by a notification that looked very similar but that took me to a feed that was entirely about weather. I have a weather widget on my phone's main screen and I can look outside at the weather anytime I want. A whole feed about weather seemed pretty useless to me. I tried many different setting changes but nothing helped.

My news feed was still available but only by tapping on the Google app search bar. And then the news cards were obscured by the keyboard. While it's not too difficult to escape out of the keyboard, it seemed noisome and unnecessary when I wanted to see my feed.

Then another problem surfaced. I could still peruse the cards in my news feed and I could tap on a card to go to the actual story. But any attempt to return from the story completely closed the app and dumped me back on the phone main screen. If I wanted to get back to my feed I'd have to once again tap on the Google app search bar and dismiss the keyboard.

On July 19 Google released an upgraded Google app that included the feed. There was a lot of hype touting this as brand new and saying that Google Now was going away (See The Verge article for example). But it really wasn't brand new. It looked pretty much like the feed had looked in Google Now. Still, there were supposed to be improvements. That had to be good, right?

Not so much for me. After the app upgrade I could no longer swipe away cards from my feed. To get rid of a card I had to tap on the three dot icon in the upper right corner of the card and select "Done with this card" from the drop down menu. I tried various solutions — including uninstalling updates, clearing cache, disabling/re-enabling, and a variety of more obscure approaches — but none of them worked. The problems even persisted with a new phone.

That's when I cried uncle. If Google's goal was to get people to shut off their Google app feed altogether, their methodology was effective for me. True, they had to wear me down over a period of half a year. But they finally got me. I'm done with Google feed on my phone.

I would say that I don't miss the feed, but that's not accurate. It is true that I used the feed decreasingly as it became less convenient, so that turning it off wasn't that big of a step. Still, I have a dandy phone and I think it ought to do some of the same cool things its predecessor did well for several years.

So I miss the feed. I liked a lot of things about it when it worked well. What I really don't miss is all of the problems my Google feed developed over the past half year. So it's with a somewhat heavy heart that I say, "So long, Google feed. Thanks for the good times."

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