Monday, January 10, 2011

How I Use Google Reader to Keep Up on Deaf Blogs, and You Can Too

The world of blogs, RSS feeds, and social media can be a little intimidating sometimes. I used to be intimidated, too, until I began using Google Reader. Honestly, I don't know what I did before it. It's sort of become an addiction for me.

I use Google Reader for a few things:
  • Personal: Keeping up on blogs I find entertaining, family members' blogs, recipes, gaming blogs, etc.
  • Work: I work in a public library, so I use Google Reader to keep up on library news and information.
  • Blogging: Deafness related news, information, stories, etc.
So what is Google Reader? Essentially, Google Reader is a way to put all of the sites you keep up on in one place, organize them, and maintain them. Google Reader uses technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to do this for you. Almost all websites and blogs that have changing content have RSS enabled already.

Getting Started
It's possible to use Google Reader without a Google account - you just need an email address to sign up - but I recommend signing up for a free Google account anyway. Even if just for Google Voice! You can sign up for Google at their homepage. Just click on Sign In, and then click the link to create an account. Once you have one, you can use Google Reader.

The Home Page
 If you click on the link above to Reader, you'll be taken to the Home page. Mine is below. Just keep in mind, mine is busier than yours will be at first! (Click to embiggen!)

To the left is a pane that contains all of your subscriptions. Mine are organized into various folders like Animals, Books, Business Blogs, Comics, Hearing Loss, etc. You can be as organized or disorganized as you want.

The center contains recent posts from the blogs you've added.

And to the right are links to items you have Starred, Shared, and (recently) Read. I'll come back to these later.

Adding a Blog
There are two ways to add a blog. You can do it the easy way or the accurate way. Click on Add a subscription first.

The easy way is to simply copy and paste the website's URL into the bar that comes up when you click Add a subscription:

Reader will search for the RSS feed on the site you put in and then, if it finds one, add it to your left-hand pane. But sometimes it doesn't find one.

That's when you need to do it the accurate way. You'll need to tell Reader the actual RSS feed of the site. Go to the website and look in the URL bar for an icon that looks like curved lines on an orange square.

Click on that icon, and you'll see "Subscribe to..."

Click either option, and you'll be taken to a webpage that may look like this.

Then, copy the URL the same way as above.

If you see the option at the top that says Subscribe to this feed using... and then a dropdown list, you can also select Google from there and tell it to put the feed in Google Reader.

Now you're subscribed to a blog. The blog's title will show up in your left hand pane (if you add a tag to it, it will be within the tag, or folder). Click on it to read the last few posts. Google Reader will automatically put the last 10 posts up for you to read when you first subscribe. (Just click Mark all as read at the top if you've already read them.) It will fetch new posts periodically.

You can either read the post in Reader, or click on the title of the post to go to the site to read it. Some sites truncate the information they share through RSS so that you have to go to the site to read the whole thing. Other sites, like my blog, freely share the content through Reader.

Starring, Sharing, and Liking
You can Star an item by clicking the star icon at the top or bottom of a post. Then, get to your Starred items later by clicking on Starred Items in the left-hand pane. I Star items to come back to later. For example, if I want to write a blog post about something I saw in Reader, I star it, and then periodically look through my starred items to find content.

Clicking Share will share a blog post with people who are following you. (You can follow people by clicking Sharing settings under People you follow in the left-hand pane.) They can then comment on it, Star it, and Share it themselves.

If you follow someone, you'll see the posts they share under People you follow on the left-hand side. I'd suggest clicking Sharing settings to edit your settings for privacy.

Liking something, similar to Facebook, indicates that you... well... like it! Once a post has at least one Like from another reader, that will show up in the post. If lots of people like a post, it might be worth spending more time with.

Put Reader To Work For You
Organize It
As I said above, you can be as organized or messy as you like with Reader. It'll automatically put feeds into alphabetical order for you, but that's about it. Use tags and labels to organize it. I can tell at a glance when I have stuff to read for work, blogging or personal time.

Use Keyword Feeds
One feed I'm subscribed to is actually the Google News search for "hearing loss." Just search on Google News for a keyword and then paste the results URL into Reader. Sometimes it means I see duplicate stories as lots of newspapers post articles on a topic (and lots of stuff from India for some reason), but I also see opinion pieces and other bits of interesting information.

Star Items to Come Back To
I star the following three items regularly:
  • Videos: So that I can come back to them when I am at home and can watch them with my Streamer.
  • Stuff to blog about later: I periodicially go through my starred posts to find items to write about.
  • Recipes: I have a recipe database on a server at home and star items to copy over to the database.
It's all about what works for you... but I have to say, starring items to write about later is such a time saver!

Share Stuff With Family & Friends
Currently only one person regularly reads stuff I share, my husband. We use it as almost a virtual notebook or scrapbook of stuff we like and want each other to look at. Anyone else looking at my shared items might be confused about why I share particular things, but it's because I think he'll like them. You can do something similar. If you're planning a wedding, share stuff with your bridesmaids... and so on! 

Find Stuff To Read
Reader has some useful tools built into it to help you find blogs to read. Click on "Browse for stuff" in the left hand pane. Here, you can search, see recommendations and see "Bundles", or groups of blogs that people have put together with a common theme.  

"Read It Later"
Read It Later is a useful tool I have recently found. You can use it just in the browser, as an extension for Firefox or on your mobile device. If you install it for Firefox you will see a small additional icon in your URL bar and in every Google Reader post. Just click that icon to have it added to your "Reading List." You can even set it up to be accessible off-line, so it may be more handy than Starring items, plus you can add literally any webpage to Read It Later. 

Subscribe to Yourself 
I subscribe to Hearing Sparks and my personal blog, Meginsanity, in my own reader. It's not because I have a big ego, it's because it lets me keep up on how my blog looks. If formatting is wrong, I'll see it right away, both on my homepage and in my Reader. It's very handy.

Follow People on Blogger
If you have a Google account, you can follow Blogger blogs without needing even the URL or the RSS feed. Just go to the Blogger blog you'd like to follow and click the Follow link at the top. It will show up in your Reader after a few minutes. Just remember that you have to unfollow them, not just Unsubscribe, if you want to quit reading the blog.


  1. This is very interesting and very thorough. I went to Google Reader for the first time and it was already populated with my Blogger blogs. I'm not sure I see the benefit of using this in addition to blogger, though, since blogger gives me the blog updates I want to read.

  2. Hi Suzy - if all of the blogs you read are on Blogger, I think Blogger definitely works as a solution. However, I don't think Blogger will give you feeds from blogs or news websites that aren't hosted on Blogger, if that makes any sense. For me, since a lot of stuff I read is on Wordpress and other blogging platforms, Reader works better than Blogger.

  3. I would love to hear what types of blogs you subscribe to!


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