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How to Get Started with Google Reader

How to Get Started with Google Reader
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    One of the core technologies behind the Web 2.0 “revolution” is RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Most websites that are updated with any sort of regularity have feeds of at least their headlines, and usually of full articles. Some sites also have secondary feeds listing their comments, videos, links, and other updates as well.

    Because RSS is so common these days, keeping up with the rush of information that shapes our lives has become pretty easy (“really simple”, even). Instead of jumping from one site to another, you can keep track of all the content of the sites you visit regularly in one central place.

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    Why Google Reader?

    While there are desktop applications that collect your syndicated content, reading RSS feeds is one task that justifies the buzz around “Web 2.0”. For reading news, keeping up with blogs, even tracking packages, little can compare with Google Reader — its easy to add feeds, easy to read them, and easy to organize them.

    Google Reader offers several advantages over stand-alone desktop feed readers. First of all, it integrates tightly with both Firefox and IE7, making it simple to use. Second, you can access your feeds from any computer, and keep your reading in sync between them. Finally, you don’t have to worry about upgrades or performance issue — bug fixes an new features are added “behind the scenes” with no action on your part. And it’s free.

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    If you already use any of Google’s other services — Gmail, Docs and Spreadsheets, Google Groups, or whatever — you are already signed up for Google Reader; just log in with your existing account information. Otherwise, go to Google Reader and create a new account.

    Adding Feeds to Google Reader

    Once you’re signed up with Google Reader, there are approximately a zillion ways to add feeds to your account. If you’re already using a web-based service or desktop program to read RSS feeds, you can import your existing feeds from the OPML file those services will generate (look for an “export” feature). But assuming you are new to this and are starting from scratch, there are several easy ways to add feeds to Google Reader.

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      First, you need to find the feed. Unfortunately, there’s no real standard (or, rather, there’s a lot of conflicting standards) for how to post a feed address on a site. Newer sites tend to use the orange “broadcast waves” box that links to the feed; older sites tend to use a small orange “RSS” or “Atom” tag instead (By the way, don’t worry about the RSS vs. Atom issue — Google Reader handles whatever you throw at it just as well.) Or there might just be a text link saying “RSS” or “Newsfeed” or “Subscribe”. Both Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer 7 auto-detect RSS feeds (Opera and Safari probably do as well, but I don’t use those, so no promises) and place an orange RSS indicator in your address bar when one is present; click it and both browsers present you with a nicely formatted view of the feed, with the address in the address bar.

      Now that you’ve found the feed, add it to Google Reader by doing one of the following:

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      • Add feeds manually. If you know the address for a site’s RSS feed, you can enter it into GR yourself by clicking “Add subscription” on the left-hand side of the page and typing or pasting it in directly.
      • Use Firefox’s auto-detection. Click the RSS symbol in Firefox’s address bar and select “Add as live bookmark”. The next page will have a drop-down menu at the top giving you several options to subscribe to the feed you’re viewing. Select Google Reader and hit “Subscribe Now”. You can make Google your default reader by checking the box marker “Always use Google to subscribe to feeds”; then clicking RSS feeds will open them directly in GR. (You can also change the default action in Firefox’s options: Tools > Options, select the “Feeds” tab, check “Subscribe to the feed using”, and choose “Google Reader”.) Unfortunately, IE7 doesn’t work the same way; it will open the feed in a nicely formatted page but does not give you the option to add to Google Reader.
      • Click the link to the RSS feed, however it is indicated on the page. This works the same as using auto-detection.
      • Look for an “Add to Google” button. If the webmaster loves you, they’ll have put a big “Add to Google” button on their page, usually somewhere near the inscrutable orange box that indicates an RSS feed. Te “Add to Google” button adds the feed directly to Reader.
      • Use Google’s “subscribe” bookmarklet. In Google Reader, go to “Settings” and then the “Goodies” tab. There you will find the “subscribe” bookmarklet — right-click and drag the link into your browser’s toolbar. A new button will be created; whenever you are on a site you’d like to subscribe to, click the button and Google will look for the RSS feed and open it in Reader. This is a preview; to add it permanently, hit the large “Subscribe” button near the top right-hand corner of the page. This works in IE7 and Firefox, and likely other browsers as well.

      I’ve used about half a dozen desktop RSS readers and a couple of online services, but none have been as smooth and easy to use as Google Reader. That said, it is not without limitations. Most notably, Google Reader is not a very good platform for podcasts. Google embeds video and audio attachments in the viewer window, but if you want your podcasts on your mp3 player, you have to manually download the files and import them into your player’s sync manager. This is a task that is much better handled by a desktop application like iTunes or Juice.

      For your daily reading, though, Google Reader is great. In a very short time, you can be cranking through dozens or even hundreds of feeds every day with a minimum of effort.

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

      More About Goals Setting

      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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