About a year ago I switched from NetNewsWire to Bloglines. I was on an extended trip and had only brought my PC laptop with me, and Bloglines seemed like the least hassle to set up. Surprisingly enough, when I got back from the trip I never switched back. While the Bloglines UI wasn't quite as slick as NetNewsWire's, the sheer convenience of being able to access my subscriptions anywhere outweighed all other cons. This of course is not news to anyone that has switched from a desktop mail application to Gmail, from a traditional photo software to Flickr, and so on.
That being said, the Bloglines UI is not as good as it could be, even given the constraints of web applications. I initially attempted to remedy this with some Greasemonkey scripts, but that didn't seem quite satisfying enough. I therefore jumped at the chance to work on what would eventually become Google Reader. Ben, Chris, Jason, Laurence and I played around with many prototypes, did usability studies and in general tried to come up with a product that all of us (and all of you) would use.
Google Reader launched this past Friday at Web 2.0. I'm very glad it's out there since we can now begin to iterate and react to user feedback. I think the ideal feed reader user interface still hasn't been discovered*, but I hope that we can explore some more avenues with our work with our experimentation. There are some elements of a River of News reader, while at the same time we still wanted to allow users to control their reading via labels and ranking options.
On the launch day I found that the best way to gather feedback was to be subscribed to a
[google reader] search on Google Blog Search and Ice Rocket. This allowed us to find out quickly what the top issues were (speed, OPML import, new subscription notifications) and quickly fix them without having to wait for a full support mail/filtering/prioritization cycle. I'm still subscribed to those feeds, so blogging about the product is the easiest way to make sure that at least one engineer sees feedback.
* Then again, considering that applications like Zoë and Gmail continue to push the bounds of mail client UI design 30+ years after the creation of email, I wouldn't be so sure of settling on a design any time soon.