Regular readers know I'm a big fan of RSS. I find it the most efficient way to scan lots of content without going to all the websites. I'm a headline scanner and not inclined to go to a site to read every story like some people read magazines.
If you disliked the previous version of Google Reader, you should take a second look. The product offers more features and speed. It has a similar look to Gmail and offers some of the same features such as starring an item or adding labels. Some people are referring to the product as your RSS Inbox.
Importing Feeds to Google Reader
One consideration current RSS users face when switching readers is porting over their existing feed subscriptions. If you subscribe to many feeds, you don't want to lose your structure or reenter information. Google Reader includes the ability to import and export OPML files.
OPML is an XML format that allows you to define lists such as bookmarks, feeds and so on. Some RSS aggregators or readers can create an OPML file based on your feed subscriptions. This import process went smoothly for me and imported with my previous folder names.
If your RSS reader doesn't appear to have the ability to export your RSS feeds, check the Google Reader FAQs on exporting. This help page references solutions for many popular products from My Yahoo! to Firefox Live Bookmarks.
Finding Feeds and Subscribing
There are four ways you can subscribe to a RSS feed. Sometimes, you know the address of the feed. For example, I know our feed address so I could click the Add Subscription button and type http://feeds.feedburner.com/ProductivityPortfolio.
Most times, you don't know the feed URL but only a site name or keyword. Again using the Add Subscription button, you could type Productivity Portfolio. The difference is that you would see other feeds that referenced our site. Google Reader also displays a checkmark next to subscribed feeds.
Another way to subscribe to a feed is by browsing feed bundles. Google has built predefined bundles around themes such as sports or photography. You can place your mouse over the feed count indicator to see which feeds are included.
When you subscribe to the bundle, you get all feeds placed into a folder with the bundle name. If you already subscribed to one of these feeds, the feed would update with the new folder name. As example, I had already imported Seth Godin's Blog and placed in a folder called Marketing. After subscribing to this bundle, his feed showed in both my Marketing folder and Small-business folder. This allows me to read his feed from either folder.
Another way of adding feeds is to subscribe as you surf. This option is handy for people who aren't aware a site even has a RSS feed. Under settings, there is a section called Goodies which offers a Subscribe toolbar button. You can drag this toolbar to your browser's Links or Bookmark toolbar. When you find a site you like, click this toolbar button.
Despite the button's Subscribe label, you haven't subscribed. Google Reader will check if a feed exists and then load it into the reader. You need to click the View all items link to see the feed's contents. If you like the contents, you must click the Subscribe button next to the tabs. This is not an automatic process.
Creating Structure with Folders and Tags
As with many RSS aggregators, Google Reader allows you to create folders. These are similar to labels in Gmail although I didn't see an easy way to rename them or set them up in advance. I could create a folder at the time I was assigning a feed or through the import process. I couldn't first create my folders and then add my feeds.
One way to get around this issue is to subscribe to any feed and create the folders you think you'll need using Change folders and the Create a new folder option. Then unsubscribe from that feed and your folder names will remain. This issue may only bother people who want to first set up their structure.
Each folder name also becomes a tag. You can take a RSS feed and assign it to one or more folders. This allows you to create your organizational structure. One item to note is that Google Reader will sort your folders in alphabetical order.
Tags are descriptors you can attach to a feed story. Tags make it easier to find or group saved stories. You can also mark a tag as public or private. This allows you to share your stories with other people in a similar fashion to social bookmarking sites. Or, you could send them a story by using the email feature.
Your tag list consists of automatic entries such as your folder names and tags you linked to a story. An easy way to tag a story is to use the keyboard shortcut t. This opens a small window where you add your tags. As you type, the system will match against existing tags. For example, if type m it displays a list of tags starting with that letter. Using tags, I could create a prioritization system. For example, I could type t for tag and 1 as the tag name to mark items needing follow up. As with folders, your tags sort in alphabetical order below your folders on the left side.
Flexible Reading Views
One feature I enjoy about the reader is I can easily adjust the reading view. Some times I have a block of time I can sit down and read many items. Other days, I take advantage of small windows of time such as when I'm on hold or using wireless access with my PDA. Regardless of whether I'm doing leisurely reading or in crunch mode, I can change my view to accommodate.
The first view is the Home view which shows snippets of your newest stories, Google Reader Team announcements and a fixed area for Tips and tricks. You can quickly see how many new stories and from which folders. For example, I have 11 new stories among my health, odds-and-ends, and technology folders. At the top, I also see a reference to the last story I starred. The star is a special tag you can use for your own purposes such as reminders or other action items.
While the Home view may work for people, I prefer seeing more headlines. I tend to click All items and only list updated. This view allows me to scan the list of headlines or further sort by clicking a folder name.
If you have many feeds and stories, sometimes you prefer to drill down and just see one folder. Once you move off the Home view you also see tabs representing a List view and an Expanded view. The list view provides one line headlines. In contrast, the Expanded view length depends on the publisher and how they create their feeds. As example, in our RSS feed we supply the first paragraph. The Expanded view is beneficial as sometimes you can't decide to read the story based on the headline and you want to know more.
If you've not found a RSS reader you like or are dissatisfied with your existing one, I would give Google Reader a shot. It offers lots of features without bogging down your system or requiring extra software. It's easy to use and can make plowing through your subscriptions a snap.
- URL: www.google.com/reader
- Cost: Free
- Requirements: Up to date browser and Google account.
Last Updated (Saturday, 19 June 2010 15:25)