Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Using Google Reader to Organize Your Blogs, Part 1

So against my better judgment (I listened to the devil on the shoulder screaming, "Fun!") I'm participating in the A-Z Challenge  next month. I can't wait to meet lots of new bloggers. Anyway, as I was gearing up for it and excitedly adding new blogs to my feed, I realized...I know plenty of people who don't use a feed reader, and don't know how. So I'm posting two blogs this week about my preferred feed reader, Google Reader, and how to use it to maximize your ability to surf for other peoples' fabulous blog posts.

Whether you're participating in A-Z, or just want a good way to wrangle all your friends' posts, check out what's below.

What's an RSS feed, anyway? 

RSS stands for "Rich Site Summary" but is also just called "Really Simple Syndication." Because that's what it is. This is the output from your blog, and no matter what blog service you use, an RSS feed allows others to easily view the content of your blog and to subscribe to your updates.

What's a feed reader? 

A feed reader concatenates all of your RSS feeds into one place—so instead of going to friend A's blog and reading it, and then friend B's blog and reading it, you can see friend A's post and friend B's posts in the same place (and maybe friend C is on top because she updated most recently.) You can also group your feeds, which is a huge time saver for blog reading.

There are lots of feed readers out there. Lifehacker, one of my favorite blogs, frequently lists their favorites.  But a lot of people, like me, use Google. It's free, it's easy to access, you probably already have a Google account, and well, why not succumb to Google taking over the world? (Someday, I'll regret this, but not today...) These same steps do apply to most other feed readers, however, so once you've learned to use one, the others will work very similarly. So feel free to pick your favorite!

So how do I use it? 

It's simple. Google reader does two things—aggregate your feeds, and allow you to organize them. First, let's look at how to add a feed.

There are three primary ways to add a feed to Google Reader: a Blogger blog link, an RSS feed subscription, or by entering the URL. Let's look at them:

1. Blogger

This is probably the simplest way to follow a blog, and it's why my site is hosted on Blogger even though I prefer Wordpress. A Blogger.com blog allows you to put a nifty little "follow this blog" widget in the sidebar. Anyone else who is using a Blogger account can simply click, select whether they'd like to follow publicly or privately, and boom! It shows up in their Blogger feed.

A Join This Site Widget
 Since Blogger is a Google product, the blogs you follow through Blogger show up automatically in your Google reader feed. So this is a one-and-done—log in to your Google account, click "Follow This Blog" and boom! It's in your Google Reader.

 2. RSS Feed

This gets a tiny bit more complicated, but not much. For non-Blogger blogs, or for blogger blogs where the "follow this blog" widget isn't engaged, you can use a direct link to the site's RSS. You'll often see something labeled "RSS" or "Feed" (and as a design aside—it's a good idea to link to your feed even if you use Blogger and the widget).
An RSS feed link

When you're logged in to Google, a window will appear when you click on that feed, asking you where you'd like to put it—on your Google homepage, or on Google Reader. Simply choose Google Reader, and you're good to go.

The "Add to Goggle Reader" button.

3. Site URL

No Blogger button? No RSS feed link? Not to worry. Google Reader also offers the option of cutting and pasting the URL into the "Subscribe" box. You'll find the link on the upper left-hand corner of your GR home screen. Once you've pasted in the URL of the blog you'd like to follow, GR will do the work of figuring out what the RSS feed is for you. This is a step removed from being able to click something while you're visiting the blog, which is why I make it option #3, but for many people, this is an easy way to add. Anyway, the result is the same.

Adding via URL input

Once you've added a feed, it will show up in your reader, which means you can read the blog straight from the reader. But if you start following more than a handful of blogs, you're going to want some organization. In this last screenshot, you can see that I've got some folders set up in the bottom part of the panel. For instructions on how to do that, stay tuned—I'll post that on Thursday (spoiler alert: it's easy!) 

Do you use a feed reader? Which one do you use? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Definitely check out Feedly if you haven't already via the Lifehacker article. It syncs with Google Reader, but it's a bit nicer on the eyes and gives you more viewing options.

    1. Ah, my techie pal. :) I do like Feedly a lot, and I use it on my iPad. But I found that since I hop back and forth on this account between Blogger and gMail, gReader is a natural extension (but you're right, the view kinda sucks.)

  2. Hooray for the A-Z Challenge!
    I've been terrible about managing my feeds so this is really helpful! I added tons of new blogs to follow and am just now realizing how tough it is to manage them all.

    Looking forward to reading your entries!

    1. Yes indeed! I realized as I was making a folder for A-Z Challenge blogs that it might not be a bad idea to write a little instructable on how to do it. I find it helps me organize blogs I want to comment on versus the ones that I mostly just read, so that I can be sure other bloggers occasionally hear from me!

  3. I've never thought about organizing the blogs I follow. I think I follow a little over 300, most are Blogger blogs and some WordPress. Thanks for putting this post together. As for the A-Z Challenge, it's always interesting to see the kinds of posts people come up with.

    I'm not brave enough to participate just yet. :)

    I use FeedBurner by the way.

    1. I'm not sure if participating in A-Z is bravery or stupidity! But I hope it will be fun. I've got everything except "U" figured out, so I can spend the next two weeks writing ahead.

      Thanks for the comment, and I hope it's helpful!

  4. WAIT. This is super creepy that I stalked your About section just now, but are you in DC??

    I'm working in DC this summer!

    1. It's not creepy! That's what it's there for. And yes! I'm in the capital. We should touch base; I'm happy to help with tips and places to go and I even tend to know a lot of people who need summer subletters...

    2. Awesome! We should definitely do that when I move down at the end of May. I'm working for the FCC and my roommate is working for DOJ, so yeah, we're definitely trying to find housing right now. If you have any leads, I'd love to hear about it. I think we're roadtripping down to DC to do a quick 1-day blitz on apartments so we can check them out before we sign.

  5. Oh no! Bad timing! Google are killing Google Reader!

    I've blogged about a few alternatives, at http://hg.s.danq.me/, of which the easiest is probably NewsBlur. Hope that tip helps somebody!

    1. *so* my kind of luck...I blog about it the week they kill it. :)

      Perhaps I'll blog about whatever I replace it with in the near future; in the meantime, I think I'll put up my second post because gReader is still a good first feedreader, I think, and it looks like Feedly will import the API. Thanks for the other option, too, I'll have to check it out!


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