If you’re an avid blog reader, chances are you manage your reading through Google Reader. If you don’t, you probably should (we even advised you as much in our feed reading tips). It’s one of the most popular RSS feed readers around, in part because of its ubiquity, but also because it’s a powerful application that is easy to configure. But Google Reader is more than just a blog repository. It’s a powerful tool for sharing, monitoring, networking, researching and even publishing. Here are some ways to make the most out of what Google Reader has to offer.
(Note: other feed readers like Netvibes may offer comparable functionality, but this post is written in the context of Google Reader.)
Before diving into the fun stuff, let’s make sure you’ve got the basics under control.
- Google Reader allows you to organize your subscriptions into folders, which can be helpful when it comes to prioritizing your reading.
- If you want to save time by scanning subject lines rather than entire entries, choose List view rather than Expanded.
- Find a great post? You can Like or Star the post. While your Likes can be seen publicly, Starred posts are private.
- You can customize the Start Page you see when you load Google Reader if you want to prioritize a certain category of posts.
- Looking for a snappier way to browse Reader? View your folders in Reader Play mode for a large, landscape-style, more visual format.
For me, one of the core functions of Google Reader has become content sharing. Don’t keep the great blog posts you come across to yourself. Share them so the people who follow you can benefit from your subscriptions and you can give your followers a sense of your point of view. Consider it educational networking. If you have added context, reaction or even dissent to add, share with a note. Your Shared folder also acts as a great personal archive of posts that struck your fancy (if you’re not already marking those as Starred).
People can follow you and your shared items via your Google Profile (“http://www.google.com/profiles/yourgoogleusernamehere”), and your Shared items also show up in Google Buzz.
People You Follow
When Google introduced Buzz, the underpinnings of the new social network bled over into Reader, opening up the social aspects of Reader more broadly than they had been available before. The People You Follow category features shared posts by people who have connected with your Reader account via Google. It can be tempting to Mark As Read, especially when you’ve got full folders of your own blog subscriptions to catch up on, but it’s worth browsing through. You’ll probably pick up a new blog or two, a couple good ideas and a few insights into what interests your connections. You can also get a sense for the news and topics that are building critical mass among your peers and colleagues.
Social Media Monitoring
Sure, blogs spit out RSS feeds. But so do Twitter, Digg and Google blog search results. And tags from YouTube, WordPress, Delicious and Flickr. Google Reader functions very well as a poor man’s social media monitoring dashboard. If you’re monitoring feeds for multiple brands or terms, set them up in different folders. It’s a free, easy and efficient way to set up a listening station.
On each post, you have the option to Send To a customizable variety of social media services, like Twitter, Delicious, Facebook and more. This provides you with an easy way of further sharing out your great blog finds right from Reader. One of the social sharing options is the lightweight blogging software Posterous. Imagine a blog fed entirely by your shared reading materials. Some thought leaders like have created Twitter accounts dedicated to housing the content they share via Google Reader. If you feel that packaging your shared content would be valuable for your audiences, consider following one of these models.
Are you learning about a topic and need some supporting materials? Type a keyword into your Google Reader search box and see what posts – both from your subscriptions and those of the People You Follow – come up. You may find a recent post long since relegated to Read status has newfound relevance. The archives go back a decent chunk of time, too, so you’ll be dipping into a fairly deep well of collective knowledge.
If you’re the self-aware type, Trends compiles all sorts of statistics about your Google Reader activity. You can go back and see just how thoroughly you’re reading through your blog subscriptions, get a sense for which subscriptions might have become irrelevant or dead weight, as well as see who among your contacts are the most prolific users of Reader. This might inform how you share content.
Many of us are looking for ways to use LinkedIn effectively by taking advantage of all its networking and knowledge opportunities. Google Reader can help with at least two of these. You can subscribe to a RSS feed of your contacts’ status updates and profile activity. This helps you stay up to date on your contacts if you can’t wait for the weekly LinkedIn network updates e-mail. The one downside is irrelevant and potentially duplicative content fed in via Twitter. In addition, if you’re trying to find a way to contribute to LinkedIn Answers but are having trouble fitting it into your workflow, try subscribing to feeds of questions from your areas of expertise. This way, you can browse the questions right from your Google Reader, click on the one you would like to answer and respond away.
Tired of maintaining your blogroll? Google Reader provides embeddable clips, showcasing recent posts from blogs in one of your folders, and blogrolls, a list of links to all the blogs in a given folder. Your clips and blogrolls sync with your blog subscriptions. You can also embed a log of your most recent shared items, via the Sharing settings page, if you want to enhance your site or blog with a glimpse into what’s on your mind and reading list. In all cases, Google Reader offers some light color customization options to allow you to match the embedded links to your blog or site.
Like you can share individual blog posts, you can also share collections of blogs. When viewing a folder (not an individual blog) in Reader, click on the Feed Settings… drop down and select Create a bundle. Google Reader then allows to select the blogs from that category you would like to include in a bundle, with a custom title and description. The downside is that you can only create a bundle from within a folder, so if I wanted a thematic bundle such as “Favorite Boston Blogs,” which would span content from several of my folders, I can’t do that.
One of the wonderful thing about the social web is its serendipitous nature. If you’re looking for a new idea, wanting to learn something new or simply break out of your routine, click on Explore. The Browse for stuff dashboard offers more comprehensive options for finding feeds, people, keywords, as well as a selection of bundles, recommended feeds and blogs. Similarly, when viewing one of your favorite categories or blogs, click on the Feed Settings… drop down and select More Like This. Google Reader will suggest similar blogs you are not already subscribed to.
These are just some of the ways to maximize the functionality offered by Google Reader. How have you used Google Reader?
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