This post was originally published on InternetNewcomer.com, the blog which preceded this one. I am no longer adding new material there but this one is worth repeating.
There are two online services that I return to many times throughout the day. The first is email. I always have Gmail loaded in a tab of my browser. In another tab is Google Reader, my feed reader of choice. If you don’t know about feeds, go take a look at the video RSS In Plain English on the Subscribe page. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
So the idea is to keep an eye on the sites that interest you, without having to visit each one separately. Let’s take a look at the type of things you might want to monitor. The image at right was taken from my Google Reader screen. To save space, only my subscription categories are shown, not the individual feeds that I’m following. You can probably figure out the kinds of sites that are being followed in each category but a couple of them are worth special mention.
Community is for information that affects me locally. Blogs from my home town and organizations that I belong to.
Updates contains feeds from software and services that I use. For instance, by subscribing to the WordPress Development feed, I make sure that I don’t miss important updates to the software that powers this blog.
webdancers tracks all of the blogs that my company has developed for other people. All businesses can benefit from keeping track of work that they have done for others or by monitoring important voices in their field. Putting all of this information in one place means that you are much more likely to actually see it.
At the moment, I’m subscribed to 69 feeds. This number changes frequently, as I’m particular about what I subscribe to and it’s easy to add and drop feeds as necessary. In Google Reader, you can also share favorite items from your feeds, which automagically appear on a custom web page which, of course, has its own feed for your friends to subscribe to.
Once you start using feeds, you’ll start thinking about using the Internet in a different way. Instead of having to take a specific action (visiting a web site), you have an always-on connection to information that interests you. The feed reader is your side of the connection. On the other side are a myriad of data sources (just look for the little orange RSS icon or the word “feed”). All blogs have feeds and so do many other web sites and online services. I suggest you start with a few blogs and get in the habit of checking your reader regularly.
One last thing, don’t feel that you have to read every item that comes through your feeds. There’s a handy button at the top of the Reader labeled “Mark As Read” and there’s no shame in skipping as many entries as you want. You can be sure that there will be more later.