I read a lot of blogs. And I do mean a lot: I just checked, and I have 197 of them in my list. And something tells me I’m really not all that unusual. Academics and news junkies tend to read a lot. Add in an interest in technology, and you’ve got a recipe for a reading list that never ends.
How to manage all that information? The tool I’ve found incredibly helpful for staying on top of my reading is Google Reader.
Google Reader is a great timesaver. I can’t imagine manually going to each of the sites I read; it would take forever. Just how long does it take me to get through those 197 feeds on any given day? Not more than 30-60 minutes, depending on how many items I decide I actually want to devote my time to reading in any depth.
I can get through my daily reading list so quickly because Google Reader shows me my news feeds in headline form. Let’s face it: most days, most of the blogs I read aren’t going to have items that I need to pay attention to. A quick glance at the post titles for each blog lets me see very quickly whether there’s anything I need to read or not.
If there is something I think I should read, I need only click on the post title, and it opens in the same window. Thanks to the preview function in the Better GReader FireFox extension, I can even do this for blogs whose RSS feed only provides snippets. (There are a few sites–such as the New York Times–that the preview function doesn’t work with, but it works for the vast majority of blogs I’ve encountered.)
If there’s something I want to read but that I don’t have time for when I’m plowing through my reading list, I can use the FireFox extension from Read it Later to add the item to my Read it Later list. I can then go back to the item whenever I have a spare moment and have my phone with me (which is most of the time). There’s even a dedicated Read it Later app for the iPhone/iPod Touch and Android platforms (Paperdroid). (Tweets can also be sent to Read it Later. To find out more about that, check out this post at Teleogistic.net.) Instapaper users don’t even need a FireFox extension to get items to their reading list; they can use Google Reader’s native “Send to” feature.
Though most of my blog reading is simply for interest’s sake, a good chunk of it relates to my job and/or my academic interests. The ability to organize feeds into different folders comes in handy here. For example, I run a class blog that I sometimes ask students to post to. Subscribing to the blog in GReader makes it easy to see when students have posted. I just toss the feed into my “class blogs” folder, and when that folder turns bold in my list, I know there’s something I need to look at.
Most blogs have an RSS feed for comments as well as for posts, so it’s easy to keep track of those, too. I’ve found this fact really handy for keeping track of discussions of posts I’ve written here at ProfHacker. Sometimes a reader comments on an older post of mine. Ordinarily, the only way I’d know is to keep going back to the older posts on the site. But since I’m subscribed to the comment feed, I can very quickly see if anyone’s left a comment I want to respond to.
Is Google Reader in your toolbox? If so, how do you use it? Is there another feed reader you use instead? Though many of us here at ProfHacker make extensive use of Google’s products, we’re well aware that there are other tools out there. Let’s hear about them as well as about GReader in the comments.
The image in this post was created by Flickr user AcidoLimon and carries a Creative Commons license.