What is this Google Reader Anyway?

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers,How-to | Thursday 16 July 2009 1:01 pm

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Google Reader announced some new features yesterday, so I thought I’d continue the Google theme of my blog lately by breaking it down for the uninitiated. The idea of an RSS subscription manager, or reader is foreign to most internet users, but it can be very helpful, especially for mothers and estranged friends and family trying to keep up with the blogs of loved ones. What follows is my attempt to de-mystify Google Reader, using more familiar language. Feel free, as always, to leave questions in the comments below, or on Twitter or Facebook.

What is Google Reader?

Google Reader is an RSS-based subscription service and manager. I know, I’ve lost you already. Put more simply, Google Reader is a tool used to put all the blogs you check regularly in one central location. From Wikipedia:

RSS (most commonly translated as “Really Simple Syndication” but sometimes “Rich Site Summary”) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format.

Google Reader takes the “RSS feeds” (or more simply, the constantly updated content) from your favorite blogs or news sites and constantly checks them for updates, so you don’t have to go to little Billy’s model rocket page 5 times a day just to see his latest launch. You just go to your Google Reader and wait for the post to show up.

It’s a lot like having an email account for your blogs. You don’t go to a hundred different sites to get messages from your hundreds of accounts, you go to one email account and let the messages come to you. Why should it be any different with the websites you frequent? Google Reader makes that happen. You go to one place and your websites come to you.

How do I get started?

Reader Login

Getting started is as simple as logging in. Go to the Google Reader homepage here, and either use your existing Google Account to log in, or register for a new one. If you use GMail or any other Google service, you already have an account and you should use that one, for reasons I’ll explain later. After logging in, you’ll be brought to this screen:

Reader Home

Google put some helpful tips in your feed to get you started. Go ahead and read them for a quick overview of what I’m about to talk about. There’s even a video to walk you through some of it. The first thing you’ll want to do is add your favorite websites. Click “Add a Subscription,” then enter in the address of any website. I’ll use this site just as an example. Enter http://www.afrowhitey.com and click “Add.”

Add Subscription

You’ll notice “The Mighty AfroWhitey” shows up under the “Subscriptions” tab. Click on it.

Subscription

Congratulations, you are now reading The Mighty AfroWhitey from your very own Google Reader. You can customize the way you see each feed by clicking on the “Settings” link. I prefer seeing my sites as a list, and using the “Previous Item” and “Next Item” buttons to scroll through them. To do this, click on “List” in the upper-right corner of the blue box. To go back to the old view, click “Expanded.”

List View

As you add more subscriptions, you may prefer to read through all your websites in the order they posted. To do this, click on “All Items” and you’ll see all the posts from all your websites. You can then sort them by oldest or newest by clicking on “View Settings” (“Feed Settings” when in a specific subscription). “Oldest” puts the oldest posts at the top, “Newest” starts with the newest. I prefer to sort by oldest and cycle through the posts using the “Next Item” button.

Now what?

Now you’re pretty much on your own. Add whatever site you want to your reader using the “Add Subscription” button, or you can create a bookmark to add any site you’re viewing that will go in your toolbar. This can be found in the “Goodies” tab of your settings. To find out if a site is subscribable or not, check the address bar. If you see an icon next to the address that looks like a soundwave, you can subscribe and all updates will come to your reader (it’s the icon next to the star in the screenshot below).

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I suggest starting with any family or friends’ blogs and moving on to news sites or even, like the New York Times or CNN or BBC, or even ESPN. You can also subscribe to specific columns, like sports or fashion, or specific contributors a lot of the time. I keep track of my movie reviews this way. You can subscribe to Roger Ebert or my personal favorite, Peter Travers. Just look for the icon on any page you’re reading and you’ll know if it’s an option.

Bonus features (A little on the advanced side):

One of the coolest features of Google Reader is the ability to share a post with any of your Google Contacts. This means that if you think your mom will like a post, you can email it to her without even leaving Google Reader. If you look at the bottom of any post in reader, you’ll see a bunch of links: “Add Star,” “Like,” “Share,” “Share with note,” “Email,” “Keep Unread,” and “Add Tags.” “Preview” is only there because I use a program called Better GReader for some added functionality.

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“Add Star” is a way of organizing your favorite posts so you can come back to them later. You’ll notice a “Starred Items” link on the left below “All Items.” Clicking this will show you all the posts you’ve starred. You can also search all starred items by using the drop-down menu next to the search button.

“Like” is a new feature. Clicking like in Google Reader works just like it does in Facebook. Anyone who reads that post will see how many people have liked it. You can also see the individual people that liked the post. This is useful when looking for more people that share similar interests to discover more interesting blogs. Just click on the link below the title to see the individuals, then click on a name to see their shares.

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“Share” will share the post with any of your Google Reader followers. Your followers are any of your Google Contacts you’ve allowed to see your shares. To choose who sees these, click on “Sharing Settings” under the “People You Follow” tab. You can also “Share with Note” to personalize any of your shares with a little message. My shares can be found here. Go ahead and follow me if you like. I share anything from cool technology, to movie news, to funny videos.

Sharing

The rest of them are pretty self-explanatory. The most useful of which being “Email.” Click on this and you can email a post to anyone in the world. It will even auto-fill for you if you used your GMail account to login. It’s vey handy for sharing with those who haven’t yet taken the Google Reader plunge.

So there you have it. I hope I’ve de-mystified Google Reader for those who may be weary of joining. As always, leave any questions in the comments, or Twitter, or Facebook. And don’t forget to become a fan on Facebook!

Google Voice Update

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers | Wednesday 15 July 2009 10:54 pm

This post is a follow-up to the recent post: “Google Voice is Your Own Personal Receptionist.”

I started advertising my home consultation services on Craigslist last weekend using my new Google Voice number and I received my first telemarketing call as a result of that today. No problem, right? I’ve got Google Voice. With call screening enabled for all unknown numbers, I was immediately given the option to send them straight to voicemail, and send them I did. A few seconds later, I got my text with the transcription of the voicemail and sure enough, it was a marketing call.

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I decided to ignore it and move on with my day until tonight, when I logged into my Google Voice account to see what I could do with it. The marketer’s voicemail was right there at the top of my inbox with two options: “Reply” and “More.” I clicked more and was given options to mark as unread, add a note, block, email, download, or embed. I clicked block emphatically. What followed is what prompted this post.

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Apparently, anyone you block in Google Voice will from that point on be greeted with the following recorded message: “We’re sorry, you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service … ” You will never hear from them again. This is my new favorite feature!

I Heart Google

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers | Monday 13 July 2009 8:00 am

The following is a post I did for LukeStay.com back in January 2008. It’s all still relevant and my recent Google Voice post reminded me of it, so I thought I’d post it again here since many of you have not read it.

It all started last year when I joined a Virtual Stock Exchange competition with a bunch of friends. We were to play the stock market for a year straight using $10,000 of fake money. Whoever had the biggest gain by the end of the year would win. I came in second, right behind a guy who made some last-minute shortsells, and I have Google to thank for it. I almost doubled my fake money.

I bought their fake stock about 6 months or so ago and it rose slowly in the next months. Then, rumors started about a Google Phone soon to be released and their stock exploded. It rose even higher after they actually released the “Google Phone” and continued to rise after that. What makes them so special? Release after release of easy-to-use, life-easing web applications. Let me just share a few that have struck my fancy.

1. Google Maps

“Google Maps is the best! / Trudat! / Double True!”

Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell knew what they were talking about. Even if Lazy Sunday was a year or so ago. I use it at least once a day without even thinking about it, it has become that much a part of my life.

What makes Google Maps so great is their constant innovation. I once used street view to prove the accuracy of a photo sent to me in an email (Proof here). I just used Satellite view last Sunday to see if there was anywhere to park near our new church building. Over the holidays, I used the route-drag feature to change my driving directions to use the Merrit Parkway to get from Boston to New Jersey, and then to add a pit-stop in Manhattan on the way back. For our wedding, I made my own embedded Google Map that contained markers for all the important venues in the area around our reception. I can’t wait to see what they do next!

2. Google Reader

I used to spend hours every week just checking my friend’s various blogs to see if they had updated anything. After a while I just gave up, it was too much to keep track of. I had heard of reader programs, but never tried any because they seemed so foreign. It wasn’t until I installed Lifehacker’s Better Gmail Firefox extension that I realized how great a reader program could be. It put Google Reader right there in my Gmail window (the new version does not have this feature yet, they’re waiting on someone to come up with an updated Greasemonkey script). I had to try it out.

Basically, like any other reader, it stores your blogs in one central place and updates when your blogs update. But what makes Google Reader so great (besides seamless integration with all the other Google products) is their new sharing feature. I can mark blogs that I think will be useful to my friends without having to email them a link to the site. I just click “share” and move on. Then it’s up to them to look or not.

My wife shares a lot of design possibilities to try in our house after we move and I’ve been exposed to a world I never knew existed with my brother’s programming blog shares. Sure, there’s programs like del.icio.us, digg, and StumbleUpon that do similar things, but with Google Reader, it’s all right in front of me as I read my blogs, no need to bookmark or install anything else.

3. GMail + Google Talk

Before I moved to New York City, I mainly used AOL’s Instant Messenger. I’ve had an account with them since junior high when AOL was the way to the internet. A few of my friends were on MSN Messenger, so I started using programs like Trillian (for PC), or Adium (for Mac) to talk to both in a single program. When I moved to New York, I discovered that I was years behind. Sure I had a gmail account, but I was not on Google Talk. Everyone was on Google Talk. I decided to check it out.

What makes Google Talk so great, is the fact that you don’t have to install any additional software, it’s right there in your web browser. This means I can chat with just about all my friends no matter where I am, whether on my computer or not. My wife uses it at work because it’s so easy to hide. It just looks like you’re typing an email. In fact, that’s how we got to know each other at first. She never would’ve married me if not for GTalk. Sure I use Adium for all my chatting purposes, but that’s only because a few of my friends still have not moved over to Google.

There’s not much to say about GMail that you probably don’t already know except that it’s great. I have about 4 different accounts that forward to one master account for easy labeling on emails like work, family, and online accounts. I use that same account to check my business email using POP, and I have most of my contacts grouped for quick mass emails. UPDATE: You can now drag and drop emails into labels (like folders) and labels onto emails. It saves a step when archiving.

So there it is. Call me a fanboy if you want, but I heart Google. Honorable mentions include iGoogle, Google Calendar (my wife and I share ours to keep up on each other’s appointments), and Google Text. Google Info has potential, but I have yet to see it give me reliable results.

And while I’m linking, check out www.japanesebugfights.com. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

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