There is something strange going on with my Google Reader account. Hundreds of items on my subscribed feeds have been disappearing regularly. One day, I would have 700 unread items on a particular feed and the next day the number would drop to 500. I have two Google Reader accounts and I have observed this phenomenon happen on both, and this has been going around for quite a while. Today I decided to investigate and while searching for a solution/cause of the problem, I discovered, for the first time, the limits of Google Reader.
There are 3 limits on Google Reader:
- Unread items older than 30 days are automatically marked as read.
- Items older than 10,000 most recent items are automatically marked as read.
- You cannot subscribe to more than 2000 subscriptions per account.
The implications of these limits are - you ‘lose’ unread articles, starting from the oldest, if you haven’t read a subscribed feed in the last 30 days. Also, if you have a large number of subscriptions with very high volume of updates, you are going to periodically lose unread articles, even if you regularly read all your subscriptions.
To put it in simpler terms, Google doesn’t keep items older than 30 days or items more than 10,000 in your Reader account with the status as ‘Unread’. So if you go on a vacation, trusting Google to safely keep your unread items until you return, you will be very disappointed.
However, you will be relieved to learn that Google Reader doesn’t actually delete any items, they are simply marked as read and archived. The post will still be in the system and you can find it either through searching, or navigating through the feed itself.
Even so, you are still going to lose track of what you’ve actually read and what has been automatically marked as read by the machine.
Interestingly, there is no mention about these limitations anywhere on Google Reader’s support and help files. It’s only through questions from aggrieved users who have suddenly found thousands of unread items lost, that Google employees have acknowledged their existence, on their forums.
According to one Google employee, these limitations are necessary to keep large and active accounts from getting very expensive computationally. One workaround to the problem, he suggested, is to sort your feeds by oldest first and show all items (using the all/new items toggle at the top of the screen) to get at old unread items in the feed.
If you want to prevent this from happening to your account, here are some steps you can take:
- Avoid subscribing to very high volume feeds such as Twitter or Tumbler feeds.
- Use RSS feed filters such as Yahoo Pipes to filter out noise. ReadWriteWeb has listed some more RSS filters.
- If a high volume feed is really important to you, create another Google Reader account (on another Gmail ID) and subscribe through it, to avoid the high volume feed from cannibalizing on your more important subscriptions.
- Unsubscribe from feeds you don’t read.
Alternatively, you can dump Google Reader and build your own web-based reader.
Will Google relax the limits in future? Maybe, but only if large number of users voice their dissatisfaction or ask for it. At this moment, this isn’t happening. Heck, many people are not even aware of it. So it is unlikely that Google Reader’s limits are going to change at any time in the near future.