Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Google Reader as a means of keeping up with journals, news, blogs and anything else

Since posting A motherlode of your very own I've had a few people email me to ask for more details on how to set up an RSS feed aggregator of their own. I've chosen to do this with Google Reader for three reasons, firstly it wasn't mentioned in the above post, because it is a powerful but intuitive feed reader, and judging by the readership of this blogs feed, quite popular. Most of the steps here are reasonably generic though and can be applied to different feed readers.

Step by step guide
Before we begin, a little bit of disambiguation. Google Reader and other feed aggregators are powered by RSS feed, which stands for really simple syndication (Actually it didn't originally, but most sites now tell you it does). Basically a site might publish an RSS feed to let its readers know that there is new content, so rather than having to keep on looking themselves, or signing up to bulky email updates, people who are interested can quickly tell if there is something new, that they find worth reading. It is built into most blogs as a matter of course, and many news agencies have now adopted it as well. As have many publishers. As such there is a rich array of feeds out there. To find rss feeds, look for this little orange symbol you can see to the right. Subscribe in a reader
May also find some text which says something like subscribe to my feed or atom or xml feed. This could be in a side bar, or sometimes at the bottom of a page.

Fortunately, Firefox and I believe Internet Explorer 7 now make it easier on sites like this one with a feed, they autodiscover it. If you look in the address bar at the top of the page you will see that little orange symbol, click on it, and you will be whisked to the feed for this site. OPML stands for some incomprehensible jargon, but the basic idea is that (in this context) OPML means a list of RSS feeds, in effect a Reading List, so if you want to add a whole lot of RSS feeds to a feed reader all at once, OPML is the way to do it.

1. First you need to decide whether you wish to begin with a tabula rasa, or whether you want to begin with a whole lot of feeds and then adjust them to suit. This is up to you personally I like to trim down and customise rather than start fresh, so I am going to be presuming you will use the OPML file/reading list that underwrites the Motherlode as your starting point.

2. As such you need a copy of that... (You can skip this step if you are starting from a blank slate). There are two ways to get this OPML file. The first and laziest way is to download it from this link here: Motherlode OPML Made Easy
Save this somewhere easy to find like your desktop.
However that link will only be updated when I remember to update it, so it is not likely to be the most recent version of the Motherlode. If you want the most recent version you will have to download it yourself. You can do this by going here: Motherlode OPML This will open up a page that looks like this:

You then need to save the webpage as an opml file. To do this go to File, then Save Webpage As, in the dialog box add a .opml to the end and save the file to your desktop (So the file should be called idmonfish.opml)

3. Now you need to go to google reader which is here: Google reader If you have used google products before such as gmail then you just need to enter your account details and passwords in to the box circled in red in the picture:

and move on to the next step. If you don't have a google account then you need to sign up for one which you can do here: New google account Once that is done, then sign into the account.

4. You should now see a screen that looks like this:

The tour is worth a read. However for now click manage subscriptions on the bottom left, circled in red in this picture:

5. Here you want to click on Import/Export which I have circled in red in this picture:

This will open up a dialogue box asking you to select an OPML file. Click on the browse button which will pop up a box to find the file. If you have followed the above instructions you will need to go to the desktop and find idmonfish.opml as shown here circled in red:

If you have named the file differently or put it somewhere different then that is where/what you need to look for. Once you have selected the right file, hit upload.

6. This should take a little while but ultimately take you to a page like this:

Here you can add tags and do all sorts of fun things with your feeds, but it is probably best to mess with that later, for now just click "back to google reader" Then hit home up on the left hand side of the screen which should then look something like this:

Your google reader is split into three areas, the first of which contains the home button and allows some meta navigation. When you hit the home button it will show you all the feeds that have new content since your last visit.

Below this is the reading list which contains all the feeds:

Notice that currently most of them are grey, this means there is presently no new items, when there are new items they turn black.

Finally there is the reading pane, where the messages themselves can be read:

7. To see google reader in action click on one of the feeds, I have chosen the table of contents for Bioethics. A tip box will pop up, just click dismiss and move onto this:

Which is the expanded view, this gives an at a glance overview of the contents of a feed, so you can scroll down to read the latest table of contents for Bioethics. Alternatively you can use the list view which I circled in red in the previous picture. Just click there and it will look like this:

As you can see you get a list of titles of the posts, which you can quickly scroll through, selecting to read only these posts which I think is more efficient, so I prefer it.

There are plenty more tips and tricks for using google reader well, but that is the basics of it.

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