New Google Reader Is Another Tech Epic Fail: Opinion

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- There seems to be an inflation in epic mistakes going on in the world of technology companies these days. Some infamous prominent examples include:

1. Netflix ( NFLX) doubling its price out of the blue, changing its DVD-only business name to Qwikster, and then killing the Qwikster idea a few weeks later.

2. HP ( HPQ) buying Palm, then killing it; HP contemplating divesting PC business, then reversing.

3. Facebook's many "opt out" privacy snafus over the last two to three years.

4. Research In Motion ( RIMM) launching PlayBook tablet without native PIM apps, such as email.

5. Google ( GOOG) launching Buzz more than a year ago, generating privacy nightmare.

The latest inexplicable way to reduce the consumer experience comes from Google. Recently, Google has refreshed the looks of many of its cloud services, such as Docs. The latest one to be refreshed is Reader, the RSS service that is so popular and easy to use for people. It enables you to quickly email an article to one or several friends if you should happen to see something interesting.

As with an email service, such as Gmail itself, a critical characteristic of a service where you are trying to quickly glance through a lot of information on the screen, is to be able to see as many rows of information as possible. As of this writing, I can see 29 rows of Gmails on my particular laptop. I used to be able to see a similar number of lines on Google Reader. But now I can only see 18 rows of Google Reader information -- a decline by more than one-third.

Google has, for seemingly no good reason, decided to introduce a bunch of white dead spaces between every line, taking away all reasonable efficiency in terms of being able to view as much information as possible on the screen. You feel like a stock trader that used to be able to look at 200 different stock quotes on the screen, but now suddenly only 128. Your productivity has now suffered a proportionate decline.

Imagine if the automotive industry suddenly decided to practice this new Google design philosophy on the minivan business. One day, Honda, Chrysler and Toyota got together and said "We have a terrific utilitarian product with the minivan, but our engineers are bored.

It's been the same big box for more than 20 years. Let's slope the side windows and the back as aggressively as a race car, and then we'll install a gigantic subwoofer in the trunk to reduce whatever is left in terms of interior space by 30%."

How well do you think these new minivans would sell if they did something like that? Yes, their whole rationale would essentially have disappeared, because they no longer fulfill their original stated utility. A minivan is about space, and if you cut it off, you're left with what is at best a station wagon. And you know how well station wagons have been selling the last 25 years.

Same thing with information. If you're in the business of processing information, whether it's emails, RSS reader such as Google Reader or stock quotes, your efficiency depends on being able to view as much of it as possible on the screen.

I can close my eyes and imagine the decision process at Google behind creating all of these space-wasting white spaces: A group of 22 year-olds discuss the matter over a ping-pong table -- "I have a degree in modern art, and just like MoMA, I think our product should be a minimalist one, containing mostly white spaces. The less information the better. Art history majors in future generations will hail us like we were Leonardo Da Vinci."

Problem is, these 22 year-old art history majors determining Google product design have never been in the business of... business. They're not stock traders, or people whose lives depend on processing information, necessitating being able to view as many lines and rows of information on the screen at the same time.

Google is trying to break into the business world, offering Gmail and Docs to enterprises. The Chromebooks are nothing short of fantastic, in my view. I recommend the Samsung Chromebook to everyone who will listen. It's the best sub-$500 electronics device on the market, in my view.

It's therefore so sad to watch Google shooting itself in the foot by allowing people who seem to have no clue about the most basic user productivity requirements to design a user interface that goes completely counter to what people need to be productive. I suggest that these 22 year-old art history majors who seem to be in charge of user interfaces at Google take a study trip to a trading floor on Wall Street, where people actually have to make money, a result of processing as much information as possible into every second, every square inch.

Advice to Google CEO Larry Page: Before you release a new product to the market, please first test it on people in the real world -- those who have to make money. Don't trust the judgment of a bunch of 22 year-olds who have not been surviving in the rough and tumble of enterprises, where maximization of productivity is required.

At the time of submitting this article, the author was long AAPL, GOOG, QCOM, RIMM and NVDA.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

Anton Wahlman was a sell-side equity research analyst covering the communications technology industries from 1996 to 2008: UBS 1996-2002, Needham & Company 2002-2006, and ThinkEquity 2006-2008.