Google Reader is my favorite Google product. I spend significant time every week using to read blogs. I have been intending to write a post on Google Reader but never got past initial drafts.
First Things First – What is Google Reader ?
Google Reader is a web based newsreader / aggregator / rss reader etc . Consider this scenario : You read say 10 blogs. If your way of following blogs is visiting all of their sites every day, then you need Google Reader. Google Reader allows you to subscribe blogs and read the posts in one convenient location.
To use Google Reader you will need a Google Account. Note that I said Google Account and not GMail Account. You can have any email id as your Google Account. Jump to www.google.com/reader and login using your google account. If for some reason , you want to try Google Reader without much commitment then try Google Reader Play at http://www.google.com/reader/play/ .
Your Google Reader interface might look something like this.
Adding A Subscription
To add a blog to the Google Reader there are at least three ways.
Method 1 : Click on the ‘Add a Subscription’ button and type in the blog name. Eg New York Times.
You will get a page with the results and you can click on Subscribe to subscribe to the feed.
Method 2 : Same as above but instead of blog name provide the blog url.
Method 3 : If the blog has a feed , then in your browser you will see an Orange icon in the address bar. Clicking on it will take you to a subscribe feed page where you can subscribe using Google Reader. If you do not use an option to subscribe using Google Reader, then note the feed url and use method 2.
Other Easier Ways to Get Blogs To Subscribe : Blog Discovery Process
In the initial phases, it will be hard to find the blogs which you want to subscribe. I would say this is mostly a blog discovery process which is usually slow. Usually you start with some of your favorite blogs – then you slowly add more blogs which are suggested in yours posts or from your friends and so on.
If you are impatient you can follow one of the suggestions .
1. Shameless Plug : You can use my list of blogs a starting point . I follow around 300 blogs covering a wide variety of topics. Feel free to throw away the blogs you don’t read. If you want my OPML feed is here. To use it , download the xml file. Click on Settings at top right hand corner and select “Reader Settings”. Select the “Import/Export” tab and import my list of blogs. Pros : You get a large list of neatly annotated blogs. Cons : Lot of blogs might not be what you want.
2. If you have some blogs in some specific areas like News or Politics then the easiest way to get blogs is from Google Reader Bundles. Click "Browse for Stuff” and it will give you some bundles of popular blogs in some topic. You can create your own bundles but that is something I have not done it.
3. If you have friends who already use Google Reader and who shared their items then the best way is to get stuff from them ! Click “Browse for Stuff” and select the “From Friends you follow” tab . This will list the blogs subscribed by your friends or people whom you follow.
4. If all else fails, you can search ! Click “Browse for Stuff” and select the “Search” tab. This allows you to search blogs in your topic of interest or you can even do a people search. There is also a Recommendation tab which gets better as you use Google Reader. It might show some generic blogs at beginning but hey something is better than nothing. Another long shot is this : Google Reader has a power reader’s page which lists the blogs read by some celebrities from which you can pick. Check out the Power Reader’s page.
5. In case, if you already have some blogs and want similar blogs, go to that blog folder in Google Reader . Click on the “Folder Settings” button and select “More Like This” .
Reading And Sharing Blog Posts
One of the first things to do after setting up initial blogs in Read and then Share !. Reading a post is straight forward. Just click on a post and start reading ! If you want to read the post from the website, click on the “Title” or if you are a keyboard person type ‘v’ .
You would like to share the blogs you read with your friends. If they are also using Google Reader then it is easy !. Google has a very convenient process to share items.
I will first show you how to share items and then will discuss the various other mechanisms.
Whenever you read an article , you can do many operations on it. If you like the item, then you can click on “Like” button. If you want to Star it similar to starring in Gmail, you can do too ! Finally if you want to share it with your friends (or the world), you can share it. The various options are shown in the following image .
I usually do the following : If I want to share an item then I click on “Share” icon (I also like and star it) . If it is interesting but I don’t want to share (for eg NSFW items) then I usually Like it and Star it (but don’t share it) . This allows me to find items that I like easily and also share items.
As I said, you can share your shared items with friends or with the world. To do that you need to modify your sharing settings. Click “Sharing Settings” under “People you follow” tab. Here you can allow all of your shared items to be visible to public or to some specific groups. Google Reader is really flexible is this aspect and you can manage the sharing as granularly as you want.
If you want finer control – for eg you want to share only cartoons and not political items you can kind of do that. For that you will put all cartoon blogs in one folder (i will explain about it soon) and politics blogs in another folder. Then go to Settings –> Reader Settings –> Folders and Tags. Select the folders that you want to share (here Cartoons) and then in the “Change Sharing” drop down choose Public. Let Politics folder remain as private.
There are other ways to share too. I don’t use it much but you might prefer it. One of the simplest is to email a post. Click on the “Email” icon and you can send to your friends with your note ! Google also has a powerful “Send To” feature which allows you to send the article to various places like Digg/ Facebook/FriendFeed etc. This might need some setup. Check out A flurry of features for feed readers for details.
Also, I have setup so that all my shared items are sent to my Google Buzz. For details check Readers : Get your Buzz on.
Organizing Your Blogs
Once you start having more blogs (lets say above 50) , then the Google Reader interface starts looking very crowded. Its time to organize ! There are two ways to organize – folders and tags.
Folders are the natural way to organize blogs. If you look at the snapshot of my Reader above , it will have many folders like Academia/AI Blogs/ Cartoons / Data Mining blogs etc. You can organize your blogs by topics in a similar fashion.
There are two ways to put a blog to a folder –
1. Go to the feed . Click on “Feed Settings” and assign it to some folder. If the folder does not exist yet, select “New Folder” at the bottom. Note that a feed can belong to multiple folders. In this sense, it is more like GMail Label than an actual folder.
2. If you want to organize all the blogs in a single shot then Settings –> Reader Settings –> Subscriptions. Here you can select blogs and assign to folders in a single shot. You can also rename or remove a feed here.
If you want to tag a post, you can see the Tags option at the bottom of the post near Like/Share/Add Star. You can add any tags you want. Tags will behave like folders but with a different icon.
You can use both of them. I usually use Folders to classify blogs and use Tags to tag a post for some fine grained detail. (Eg Machine Learning blogs can be the folder name and Classification/Clustering can be tags for the posts which use Classification or Clustering.
You can do all things possible on folders on tags too. Eg you can share / delete specific tags.
Unsubscribing a Blog
Sometimes you will need to unsubscribe a blog – may be you did not like it. Or it has too many posts for you to read (hello Slashdot or Hackernews) . There are two ways to do it too !
1. Go to the feed. Click on “Feed Settings” and select “Unsubscribe”.
2. If you want to unsubscribe multiple blogs then Settings –> Reader Settings –> Subscriptions . Select the blogs and click on “Unsubscribe” to do it in bulk or you can use the Trash icon for doing it individually.
I prefer using Keyboard to mouse anytime. Google Reader has a comprehensive set of keyboard shortcuts to do all operations. To see the entire list press “?” in the Google Reader.
My favorites are :
j/k – Next/Previous blog post.
<shift>+n/p – Next/Previous subscription.
s/l/<shift>+s – Star / Like / Share an item
v – view the post in the original context. (Some blogs might provide summary in feed and may require you to view the full post in their blog).
<shift> + a – Mark all posts as read (Trust me , you will need it !)
r – refresh
a – add a subscription
/ – Move cursor to Search textbox.
Trends are a neat feature in Google reader that provide neat statistics. For eg, it provides statistics on your activity for past 30 days (I read 2906 posts !) . The most useful is the Subscription trends. I use it to prune the blogs which don’t update much. (Hopefully, my blog will not suffer that fate !)
This also shows statistics about your friends so that you can have a competition among them !
Another of my favorite graph shows “Time Of Day” and “Day Of the Week” reading statistics. According to them , I read mostly between 2 PM – 10 PM CST (Which I kind of know) and read heavily between Wednesday-Friday (which is a surprise !)
Shared Items Page
If you decide to share your shared items publicly (see ‘Reading and Sharing Blog Posts’ ) , then there are lot of additional things you can do.
1. I would suggest setting up a Google profile because it makes your shared items page url more readable : Eg http://www.google.com/reader/shared/saravanan.thirumuruganathan vs http://www.google.com/reader/shared/02438731866835478013 .
You friends can subscribe to your shared items as if it is a blog ! (Hint ! Hint !)
3. If you want to show your shared items in your WordPress.com blog, the easiest way to do is to add “RSS” widget to your page and give it the url of your shared items page.
This has become a long post and so I will start wrapping up. I have not talked about some interesting stuff . If you are interested check them out – sort by magic , adding notes, commenting on your/your friend’s post , recommended posts, using Google Reader on sites which don’t have RSS (check here ) . I also have not talked about RSS/Atom. You can get further details from the net.
1. I liked this Youtube video on Using Google Reader.
2. Of course, check out the Google Reader help page.
3. Do subscribe to Google Reader blog.
1. I have used images from Not Invented Here and Google Reader Help.