Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Public Service Announcement - Get More from your Time Online with Google Reader

Do you find you have that addiction to checking dozens of different sites on the internet before you settle down to your intended work or play? Let me recommend one tool that has helped me control that endless web-surfing activity: a web-feed aggregator. There are several of them out there. Each one probably works a bit differently. The one I'm using is Google Reader.

I think I first heard about it from Pat, who works with me on the ezine and plows through dozens of news sources on our behalf, keeping up with what's going on in many parts of the world and looking for stories we can reprint. Oh, and she's managing a household, homeschooling her kiddos, working part-time, etc. So Pat's big on anything that will help her maximize her time.

Me, I just wanted it for personal use. But you could use it either way, or both. It won't check your bank balances or tell you what your Facebook friends are doing, but it's good for things like reading blogs. Particularly, it keeps you from going back every day to check blogs that don't have any updates or at least not ones you care to read. Think of it as a clipping service, but one that's free and easy to use.

Here's how it works. Most blogs, and many other sites (like some of Pat's news sources), are set up for users to subscribe to a 'feed,' which means that the site talks to one of these aggregate sites - whichever one you designate - and lets you know it's been updated. You can usually make the connection from either end - either put the address into your aggregator and have it look for a feed, or click on a feed link/button on the site you like so it will let your aggregator pick up updates. On this blog, for instance, there's a line at the bottom that looks like this:

Subscribe to: Posts (Atom)

If you click on the link, you'll get a box that says 'subscribe to this link using... ' If you select Google, then Google Reader, you'll have your first feed; I think it will send you my last ten posts. But you've already read 'em, so click 'mark all as read.' Then go back to Google Reader now and again to check for an update. Oh, if mine is the only one you used this for it wouldn't save you any trouble but say you have 20 blogs you check; now it's all on one site. Play around with it a little bit and add subscriptions to other blogs you read. Other words to look for are RSS, XML, feed, and syndicate. Read more about these terms and the whole process here.

I've currently got mine set up to provide just the first paragraph in a feed, because I write long postings and tend to go back and change them - so, you can get a taste of what the post is about but you'll have to click through to my site to read the whole thing. That will also keep my visitor counts from plummeting, if lots of people use these things. (The default in blogger seems to be 'full' syndication - so readers could get a whole post and never come to your site; I didn't want that. If you are a blogger you can go into your settings and choose which you prefer, or disable the syndicating feature altogether.)

I'm pretty sure I didn't need to download anything onto my machine for this, but you might need to register with Google to use Google Reader; I was good to go because I already use several Google programs including gmail.

I started with just the blogs I read most often, but then went back and added the ones that I rarely check (often because they are rarely updated). Including them means I can forget about them; Google Reader will tell me if the author ever posts anything new.

You can easily click to the original site to read more, read or leave comments, etc.

I'm not deleting my bookmarks just yet, but this is much easier.

Now, one of these days, I need to put some of these things to use in my work... first, by reconfiguring our ezine archives so readers can get them through RSS feed. Haven't figured out how to do that in Drupal, our CMS - but there must be a way!


Paul Merrill said...

I use Google Reader as my main RSS Reader. But I wish I had used NetNewsWire (Mac only, unfortunately) as my main RSS reader. It has a better interface. But I'm just too lazy to switch my feeds over.

Windows users out there - any recommendations for the Windows OS beyond Google Reader?

I'm not totally discrediting Google Reader. As with all Google products, there's a lot going for it.

Pat Noble said...

One correction Marti. You CAN see what your Facebook friends are doing using Google Reader!!!! BTW, let me know if you decide to go to Story08. -Pat