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!

  • Mooney

    I love the mobile version of google reader too. So easy to wade through stuff I don't want to read and even if I'm in a hurry, I just click keep unread and it still shows up in my all items feed. Brilliant.

  • Yeah, I've heard their mobile apps are great. Someday I'll have a phone that
    can run them.

  • Yeah, I've heard their mobile apps are great. Someday I'll have a phone that
    can run them.