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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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    RSS icon

      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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      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      The Gentle Art of Saying No

      No!

      It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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      But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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      What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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      But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

      1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
      2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
      3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
      4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
      5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
      6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
      7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
      8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
      9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
      10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

      Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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