About Google Reader

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Posted 19 May 2007 in Geek Girl

Geek GirlOverview: Google Reader is a great tool for reading frequently updated websites without having to visit every single one! It can also be used to subscribe to comments on blogs, including this one. Google Reader is also very useful if you see a post and comments that are interesting but don’t want to keep returning to the website to see the new comments.

What is RSS? From Google Reader’s help pages (link #1, link #2):

Websites publish lists of updates—called “feeds”—that indicate when new content has been posted. When you subscribe to a feed, Google Reader starts monitoring that feed for updates. You don’t have to give any personal information, it doesn’t cost a dime, and it’s easy to unsubscribe.

Or, from my post “What is RSS?

RSS stands for “Really Simple Syndication”. A RSS feed document can contain a summary or the full content of that site. It allows you to know the latest of all the sites you regularly visit saving you the trouble and time of visiting each individual site everyday to get the latest content. Almost all blogs, news sites and other sites that have regularly updated content provide RSS content.

In Firefox, sites with feeds have an orange RSS logo in the address bar that looks like this . In Internet Explorer 7, the orange RSS logo will be visible in the toolbar and clickable. Additionally, websites with RSS feeds may have their RSS logo in various colors but it will still have the same design.

The “What is RSS: A tutorial introduction to feeds and aggregators” from Software Garden, Inc. is quite helpful (link) for those who want more information on RSS feeds.

Adding SES Toronto Twitter feed link to Google Reader
Creative Commons License photo credit: Search Engine People Blog

Features of Google Reader: Simply put, Google Reader is a great web application that can integrate into your use of Gmail and other Google applications, as well as being accessible from anywhere you have Internet access. There are 9 additional features that I think make Google Reader GREAT.

  1. If you are tired of always using your mouse or your laptop’s touchpad, you can always use keyboard shortcuts for all of Google Reader’s main features (and more!). It is even printable. I keep mine in a clear page protector and use it as my optical mousepad. (Google Reader Keyboard Shortcuts)
  2. The clean, round interface is very easy on the eyes and if you are a Gmail user, it will look very familiar. Left-hand navigation keeps everything together and coupled with the keyboard shortcuts, the interface is a delight to use. It doesn’t hurt, either, that the timestamps say, “29 minutes ago” as well as standard time.
  3. Once you have a few feeds in your Reader, the homepage will show you a sample of the posts you haven’t read yet. It pulls these posts out by using some Google Analytics about your reading preferences. So far, it is pretty accurate.
  4. Your subscriptions can be sorted by labels. You can even give one subscription multiple labels. Label names can be modified or deleted to fit your needs. This helps keep things organized and when you are crunched for time, just get right to the feeds that are most ‘important’ immediately, rather than wading through all 10-20-40-90 of your subscriptions.
  5. For the minimalists, you can just view the headlines from each subscription by utilizing the Headline View. For those who like a more full experience, you can use the Expanded View and read each message individually.
  6. Sometimes, I just don’t feel like reading 30 messages from Slashdot. So, I just press “Mark all as read” and keep moving through my list. Saves time from having to scroll through the list to make sure every message is marked read.
  7. Google Reader works with your Gmail account to email messages to friends or a coworker. Email addresses are auto-completed, just like in Gmail. You can even add a personal message to go along with the HTML of the post.
  8. When I don’t have time to really *read* a feed, I will star the message and come back to it later. I can also share a feed and add the clips to my website (see the sidebar for an example) or give the RSS feed to others (see the sidebar for this, too).
  9. And of course, the ability to export your feeds to an .opml file and share them with others or backup your information.

Twitter Hashtags in Google Reader
Creative Commons License photo credit: Search Engine People Blog

How to access Google Reader: Once you get the gist of what RSS feeds are and can do to make your life easier, you should sign up for a Gmail (Google) account and start using Google Reader. If you have a Gmail account already, you can use the default URL to access Google Reader (http://www.google.com/reader/view/#overview-page/) or the dropdown menu at the top left of your Gmail homepage to access Reader.

Note: Because of the partnership between Google and Firefox’s creators, Google Reader can be selected as your default RSS reader via Tools > Options > Feeds. Read more about this at Digital Inspiration. For the real geek enthusiasts out there, you can try the Greasemonkey Add-on with Firefox and install scripts from Userscripts.org to tweak Google Reader. I also found out about the Stylish Add-on, which allows you to write your own CSS for websites – there are a few for Google Reader out there, or you could design your own.


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