Matt Gemmell

My new book CHANGER is out now!

An action-thriller novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Google Currents

reading & design 3 min read

A developer at Google got in touch with me today regarding Google Currents, a new app for both iOS and Android devices that offers a curated, formatted reading experience for the content you care about. I’m enjoying using the app, and I thought you might be interested in a brief overview.

Google Currents is US-only at time of writing (9th December, 2011), but hopefully we’ll see a wider roll-out soon. I was offered a build of the app to try, and you can get it on the App Store if you have a US iTunes account. Android users, you’ll want to grab it on the Android Market.

I’ve chosen to use iPhone screenshots here, because I think it’s harder to make content truly readable and browsable on smaller screens. Currents does a decent job of it. I’ve also chosen landscape orientation, since I prefer reading long-form text in landscape on my phone, and most of the other online coverage of Currents has chosen to show only portrait-orientation screenshots.

Library

The Library, listing the Editions you subscribe to.

Currents calls content-sources “Editions”, and the Library screen lists them. There are more than shown above by default; I’ve removed some. You can tap the “+” proxy-edition to add more, with a pre-made list of many possible recommended sources split into categories. If you use Google Reader, all of your feeds will also be available to choose from (you sign into your Google Account when first launching Currents).

My blog, along with Daring Fireball and those of my fellow Read & Trust members, was used as a test Edition during development of Currents.

Trending

The Trending section of the main screen.

Trending is the second half of the main screen, after your own Library of Editions (sources). This section lists trending topics regardless of whether their source is in your Library. They behave slightly different from regular Editions since they’re an aggregate of stories on a given topic, as shown in the next screenshot.

Trending topic details

The details screen for a trending topic.

Each trending topic has a screen like this. The Stories section obviously contains all the recent stories which give rise to this topic being considered to be trending. User Generated seems to focus on media surrounding a topic, and the About section seems to be an auto-search of factual information pertaining to the given topic (often Wikipedia articles, official sites where relevant, and such).

Edition home page

The primary screen for a given Edition.

This is the screen for an Edition, showing a list of all stories from this source. The display differs on larger-screen devices, having a much more magazine-like layout. Thankfully, they didn’t try to do that on a small iPhone screen, and stuck with a pleasingly clean and readable list.

Reading an article, start

Reading a story - beginning.

This is the beginning of an article I’ve tapped to read. The numbered page-control dots fill in as the article loads in the background; you can start reading immediately.

The buttons along the bottom are, from left:

  • Return to the Edition (source) page (which presents all stories for this source)
  • Show the story-selection popover (screenshot below)
  • Return Home (to the Library/Trending screen)
  • Share (via Google+, email, Instapaper, Pinboard, Tumblr, Facebook, or Twitter)
  • Jump to the next story
Reading an article, middle

Reading a story - middle.

Mid-way through a story. There’s no vertical scrolling; it’s strictly horizontal. There’s no page-flip effect - the display just slides horizontally in a quick animation. Embedded images are centred, and links are highlighted with colour (and will open within a full-screen embedded browser if tapped).

Article-selection popover sidebar

The story-selection sidebar.

You can pick an arbitrary story from the current edition (i.e. site or blog) to read, or you can just page through them in order with the ‘next’ button at bottom-right. When any pop-over is visible (such as this sidebar, or the sharing pop-over), the remainder of the display is darkened to remove visual focus from it.

I’m pretty impressed with Google Currents; it’s a solid 1.0 release. It focuses on being a visually-pleasing way to read the content you’re specifically interested in from the web, rather than taking Flipboard’s approach of letting others (at least in part) determine what content you see.

The aesthetic is quiet and calm, and it does just enough with trending topics to ensure you always have something to read without feeling that your own selected content is being intruded upon.

If you’re a fan of curated content consumption mechanisms such as Flipboard and feed readers, and you appreciate legible, humane formatting of web content as provided by Safari Reader or Instapaper, you might want to give it a try (and if you’d like to share your thoughts, I’m @mattgemmell on Twitter.)

Footnote: If you’re the author of a blog or other site, you can exercise additional control over how Currents presents your content by signing into Google’s Producer publishing tool (at time of writing, via the Google Chrome web browser only).