Monday 10 December 2012

How Do You Read?

[UPDATE: In this article, I recommend the use of Google Reader. Google retired Reader on 1st July 2013. This article still holds value; just substitute Feedly for Google Reader! I now highly recommend Feedly for reading news feeds.]

There's a lot of information out there in internetland; constantly being updated and added to. A lot of it is good, intelligent information, but it's spread across many web sites. Visiting each of those web sites on a regular basis, checking for updates, is time-consuming and frustrating.

Wouldn't it be so much easier if the new and updated information came to you when it was published, rather than you searching for it? But you don't want it sent to your email inbox because you're concerned that your inbox will become full-up. An RSS Feed Reader will solve all of your problems. It's like having your own personal newspaper, full of new and fresh content about things of your own choosing.

You don't need to download and install any software on your desktop if you use a browser-based RSS Feed Reader such as Google Reader. At the end of this article, I've provided a step-by-step guide to get you started.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a way of collecting regularly changing web content from your favourite sites. It enables you to get all the latest information and news summaries in one place, as soon as it is published, without having to visit the individual websites you have taken the feed from.

To receive an RSS feed you will need a Feed Reader. This is a piece of software that automatically checks the feeds from your chosen sites and lets you read any new articles that have been added. And once you've read an article, most Feed Readers will then hide it so that you can easily distinguish between read and un-read articles. A variety of Feed Readers are available for different platforms. Some are accessed through your browser but you can also use a downloadable application.

Feed Readers bring automatically updated information straight to your desktop, tablet or mobile phone. You can monitor news, blogs, job listings, personals, and classifieds. More and more sites offer feeds, which you can identify by a small button that says either RSS (see the logo above) or XML. However, if you click one of these links, you will most likely get a page full of code in your browser. To properly read the feed, you need an RSS Feed Reader; take the URL of the page and paste it into the Subscribe option of your Feed Reader.

I use Google Reader on my desktop (via a browser), tablet and mobile phone. The advantage of a cloud-based reader like Google Reader is that its list of read and un-read articles is synchronised between all of my devices. So, when I'm sat on the train in the morning, I can read my feed via Google Reader on my tablet; if the train is full, I have to stand, and I don't want to hold my tablet, I can use Google Reader on my phone; and if I have some spare time during my lunch break, I can use the browser on my client's desktop computer to read my feed. Google Reader keeps a central record on new articles and read articles. All-in-all, I have my personal newspaper wherever I go, it's always up-to-date, and I never read the same article twice.

Google Reader isn't limited to Android devices and browsers for desktops; you can get suitable readers for Apple's iOS, e.g. MobileRSS and Byline; and you can try Flux and NextGen Reader on Windows Phone.

Over time, I've subscribed to a wide variety of web sites and blogs on a wide variety of topics (SAS, Android devices, motorsport, project management, technology, and my kids' own blogs). Some feeds are keepers, others I unsubscribe after a few days or weeks. Google Reader lets me keep my subscriptions in folders, so I can distinguish between topics.

Before I finish, let me offer one piece of advice. You need discipline in order to occasionally avoid becoming overwhelmed by the number of new articles. Unlike a daily newspaper that's has a predictable number of pages and articles each day, the number of articles appearing in your Feed Reader will vary. On occasion, you will have an overwhelming number to read. Don't be afraid to use the Mark As Read feature to ignore or skip them. Look at it this way.. If you hadn't started using your Feed Reader you probably wouldn't have seen those articles; so if you skip or ignore some articles occasionally, you haven't really lost anything. It takes discipline to "throw away" good information, but sometimes it's necessary.

All-in-all, I'd be lost without my Feed Reader. On each of my devices, I am kept up-to-date with all of the topics in which I hold an interest. And, as you may have noticed, some of those articles make their way into NOTE: from time-to-time.


Oh, so I convinced you? Fab. Here goes...

1. Launch a browser on your desktop, skip over to, create yourself a Google account if you don't already have one, and login

2. Subscribe to some content. Let's try a couple of examples...

3. You're first choice will be NOTE:, right?!
3a. Go to and look for Subscribe From A Feed in the right-hand margin
3b. Click the Posts button (showing the RSS icon) and then click the Add to Google button
3c. In the resulting screen, click the Add to Google Reader button
3d. It's all done - that was quick and easy. You're now in Google Reader, with the ten(?) most recent articles shown as unread. Read them and scroll down; Google Reader will automatically mark them as read as you scroll past the bottom of each article. In the left margin you'll see the number of unread articles in bold alongside the subscription

4. How about BI Notes blog? It doesn't show an RSS icon...
4a. We like the material at, but there no RSS icon to click
4b. No problem, just copy the URL, go to Google Reader, click Subscribe near the top of the left margin, enter the URL for BI Notes, and click Add
4c. All done. In the left margin of Google reader you now see two items in the list of Subscriptions; the bold numbers tell you how many unread articles you have

5. It's easy to unsubscribe from a feed; just  hover your mouse over the name of the feed in the list of Subscriptions; you'll see a little pull-down arrow appear at the right-hand end of the name of the feed; click on the pull-down arrow and select Unsubscribe from the menu

6. You can now download a Google Reader app on your mobile device(s), login, and see a synchronised list of subscriptions and unread articles. And your mobile app will allow you to add (and remove subscriptions) too

7. Once you've got more than a few feeds, spread across multiple topics, you can add folders to Google Reader and then move your feeds into them. Just hover your mouse over the name of the feed in the list of Subscriptions; you'll see a little pull-down arrow appear at the right-hand end of the name of the feed; click on the pull-down arrow and select New Folder from the menu

Happy reading!