Friday, September 30, 2011

Streamline Your Reading with Google Reader

Every day, I use something created by Google to help me be more organized and work more efficiently. And one of my favorites is Google Reader.

What is Google Reader?

Google Reader is an RSS feed reader.

When you subscribe to an RSS feed, updates from the website or blog are delivered to your reader automatically, without your having to bookmark a bunch of URLs or constantly check the sites for new content.

Google Reader is web-based, so there is no software to install and you can access your account from any computer.

Here is what my Google Reader looks like when I log in (click on the image for a larger view):

On the left side, you’ll see some of the feeds that I subscribe to, organized in folders. In the main content area, the latest updates are featured, as well as content that I’ve starred (marked as favorites), shared with others by email, or read.

What Can You Do with Google Reader?

Google Reader saves time by allowing you to collect news and articles in one place, without having to visit different websites to retrieve them. It also allows you to expand your focus. Checking one or two websites each day may seem manageable, but twenty? That's where Google Reader comes in.

1. Subscribe to Blogs

There’s a blog for every subject and interest, created by people like you, as well as by companies and organizations.

Most are dedicated to covering a particular topic. I follow blogs about communications, healthcare, sewing,  and frugal living. Why? Because they help me to:
  • Stay current in my job field
  • Learn from others who pursue my hobbies
  • Learn how to live a greener, more conscientious lifestyle
In total, I subscribe to 73 blogs, and without Google Reader, I’d struggle to keep track of even two. To be honest, I didn't know that I followed 73 until I counted them for this article. My best guess would have been 20!

To find blogs, search for a topic in a search engine, followed by the word “blog.” For instance, if you’re interested in cooking, you might search for “cooking blog.”

Once you're at a blog that you like, look at the sidebar. Blog authors usually publish a boll roll, a list of blogs that they follow or recommend. Use their recommendations to discover similar blogs and build your subscription list.

2. Get News Updates

Every news publisher, from The Buffalo News to The New York Times has an RSS feed. You can subscribe by section, so that you receive only the content that’s of interest to you. For instance, you might limit your subscriptions to breaking news or to the lifestyle or job sections.

3. Automate your Web Searches

Maybe you want to know when a new cooking article is published on the web. Or you want to monitor mentions of your business. Rather than do a web search again and again, automate your search with Google Alerts.

Google Alerts does the searching for you and delivers the results to either your email inbox or to your RSS reader (set the delivery option to “Feed”).

Be warned that by choosing the email delivery option, you may get a flood of emails, depending on the popularity of your search terms. With Google Reader, you can look at your updates when it’s convenient for you, rather than every time you open your email.

How Do You Get Started?

Create a Google Account

To access Google Reader, you need a Google account. To sign up or sign in, go to

Subscribe to RSS Feeds

Now it’s time to create your subscription list. Once you find a site that you'd like to follow, look for the RSS icon.

Many frequently-updated websites have feeds (including this blog), and the feeds are usually indicated with an icon that looks like this:

When you click on it, you may see one of two things:

1. A selection of RSS readers to choose from:

In this case, click on “Google Reader” to subscribe to the feed and add it to your Google Reader dashboard. To view your feed, go to

2. The feed in your website browser (a Buffalo News feed is pictured below).

Subscribing to a feed that displays in your web browser requires a few steps:

1. Copy the URL:

2. Open a new window or tab. Log in to Google Reader at

3. Click on “Add a Subscription” below the Google header and paste the URL. Click “Add.”

The name of your feed will appear in Google Reader’s left sidebar, and the feed's latest updates will be displayed in the main content area:

Organize Your Subscriptions

Because I subscribe to feeds that cover different topics and for different purposes, I organize them into folders. These folders appear in the left sidebar.

To create a folder for your new feed, first click on the feed in your feed list, which is in the left column. Then click on the “Feed Settings” drop down, located above the blue content area.

Scroll down and click on “New folder…”

A dialog box will open that prompts you to name your new folder.

You can also can use the Feed Settings drop down to move a subscription from one folder to another or to unsubscribe from a feed.

View Your Updates

In Google Reader, unread items are indicated in bold.

To view all of the updates in a folder, click on the folder name.

For instance, I added this blog to my "Lifestyle" folder. By clicking on the folder name, I can see all of the folder’s updates in one window.

If I prefer to focus on one feed, I can click on the plus sign next to the folder and choose that particular feed. Here, I've clicked on the Live Well feed within the "Lifestyle" folder.

When you see something that interests you, click on the title of the article to expand the content.

If you scroll through your updates and decide that you don’t want to read any, use the “Mark all as read” drop down to indicate that those items have already been reviewed. That way, when you return to Google Reader, you won't need to look at those items again.

Tag Your Updates

Tags allow you to save and organize content for easy retrieval.

Let’s consider the fall festivals article shown above. If you wanted to save that article for easy access, you could create a tag.

Google automatically creates a tag with the folder's name (in this case, "Lifestyle"). But many times, you'll want to be more specific.

For this example, we'll create an "Events" tag to store articles that mention events.

To create a tag, scroll to the bottom of the article, and click on “Edit Tags." Enter the tag's name and click “Save.”

The tag now appears at the bottom of the sidebar. If you were to click on that tag, you would see the fall events article:

As you tagged more articles with the "Events" tag, those articles would display here as well.

Collect Your Favorites

To collect your favorite articles in one place, regardless of subject matter, you can “star” them. To do so, click on the star icon, which appears next to the article’s title.

To view your starred items, clicked on “Starred items” in the sidebar:

Share Your Content

See an article that you want to share with a friend or co-worker? You can email the article without leaving Google Reader.

Click on the the “Email” option at the end of the article. A dialog box will appearing, asking you for an email address to send the article to. You can also add a message if you wish.

When the recipient receives your email, the email address associated with your Google account will display. Make sure that it's something that you wouldn't be embarrassed for them to see.

Accessing Google Reader on Your Phone

When you find yourself waiting somewhere – in the car, in line at the grocery store, etc.– you probably wish that you had something to read. If you have a smartphone, then you do.

A Google Reader app is available for both Android phones and iPhones. Download the app and you can read and star your content just as you would on your computer.

That's it for the basics! This was a long article, but I hope that its been useful and illustrated the benefits of using Google Reader.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments.


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