Imagine for a minute that you had to personally request each email that you wanted to receive. Each morning you’d get up and go through your list of people that might have email for you:
- “Kelly, do you have any email for me today?” Nope.
- “Ali, do you have any email for me today?” Yes, here are two.
- “Chantelle, do you have any email for me today?” Yes, here is one.
- “Steve, do you have any email for me today?” Nope.
- And on and on and on…
It’d be awful! Fortunately email doesn’t work that way, but people often treat websites the same way. They’ll go through a list of sites to see which ones have new content and which ones don’t, then determine which stories are worth reading. There’s an easier way.
(note: in the time since I published this post, Google Reader has been discontinued and I’ve moved over to Feedly. The concepts listed below work almost exactly the same, just on a different system.)
You’ve likely heard of “RSS Feeds” (or you’ve seen the orange icon on the right) but perhaps don’t know what they are. Without getting technical, they’re simply a list of recent posts from a website that you can plug into a system like Google Reader. Google Reader will remember which ones you’ve seen and only show you the new posts. For example, right now Google Reader is telling me there are 18 new items for me to read out of the 538 sites that I follow. Rather than going to each site to see what’s going on, I can just pull up Google Reader and read through those 18 items. Here’s a bit more about how it works:
One nice feature of Google Reader is that it allows you to “star” items that are of interest to you. I tend to flip through my list of unread items very quickly (you can use the “j” key to “jump” from item to item), star items that look interesting, then go back to them when I have time to dig in.
Those items then might be shared by me on Twitter, or perhaps become part of a blog post, or may be simply discarded because the content wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped it would be. If it’s a long post that I’d like to read later, I’ll often it add it to Pocket for easy reading on my phone or tablet.
Speaking of mobile devices, I also do a good bit of skimming from my phone. I don’t read many in-depth posts while mobile, but I’ll often flip through the items and star those that look good so that I don’t have dozens of unread items waiting for me when I get back home. If you use Android the native Google Reader app is pretty solid, and on iOS I’ve had good luck with Reeder. There are many other great apps for both platforms, so just choose that one that you’re most comfortable with.
What do I add?
Virtually every blog that you can find will have an RSS feed, even if the author doesn’t know it. You probably keep up with a handful of blogs already, so just start adding them to Reader. You can add sports feeds, tech news, general news, all kinds of stuff. I follow blogs from my children’s teachers, other web companies and many others. Once you learn to look out for the orange RSS icon you’ll start seeing it everywhere!
For example, if you do a search on Craigslist and scroll to the bottom you’ll find a feed for that exact search term. This can be great if you’re looking for a specific kind of item — just add that feed to Reader and let the new items come to you rather than having to visit Craigslist every day to see what’s been listed.
How do you keep up with your favorite sites?