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How to read blogs efficiently with a feed reader

Books tend to be better-organized and more in-depth, but these days, I get more current information and insights from blogs. Reading lots of blogs can take time, though. Worse, it’s easy to get distracted by the interesting links and ideas you’ll come across. Next thing you know, it’s two hours later and you haven’t even started working on your project.

Here are the tools and strategies I use to read blogs. I hope they help!

I subscribe to blogs I regularly read, and I read them using a feed reader. Some blogs are great for inspiration and serendipity. Other blogs are written by people I’d like to learn more about, and I don’t want them to disappear in my forgetfulness. Instead of subscribing by e-mail, I use a feed reader to organize the blogs I want to read in different folders, so I can prioritize which folder I want to read first.

You might not have come across feed readers yet, or you may already be using one without knowing what it’s called. Feed readers (also known as aggregators) are tools that go to all the blogs you’ve subscribed to and get a special version of the blog updates formatted so that computers can easily understand it. The tool then displays the information in a form you can easily read.

 

Many feed readers allow you to organize your subscriptions into folders. For example, I have an “AA Skill Development” folder for professional development blogs that I skim when I find myself with a moment of time. I add “AA” to the beginning of folders that I’d like to see first in the list, since the folders are alphabetically sorted. Organizing your subscriptions into folders is great because that allows you to quickly read through lots of similar topics together.

I read most blog posts on my phone, quickly paging through headlines and excerpts. I rarely read blogs when I’m at my computer. After all, I could be doing something more productive instead, and I don’t want to get distracted by the links. The Feedly app isgreat for this because it can synchronize across devices. Many feed readers even let you read while you’re offline, which is great for learning things when I’m on the subway. Lately I’ve been skimming through everything, newest posts first. It doesn’t take me a lot of time to do so, and it means that I don’t forget to read the folders down the list.

When I come across something I find interesting, I use the Save for later feature in Feedly. I can then follow up on it when I get back to my computer by checking my Saved for later folder. I usually save this for my weekly review. In fact, I have an If This Then That recipe that copies my saved items into Evernote, and I have an Emacs Lisp script that exports that list and makes it part of my weekly review. That’s probably the geekiest part of my setup, so don’t worry if that makes you gloss over. =)

You don’t have to read everything. You don’t even have to skim through everything. Feel free to use the Mark all as read feature, or to ignore the unread count.

Most feed readers can autodetect the feed for the site you want to subscribe to. For example, if you want to add this site to your Feedly, you can try putting in http://sachachua.com/blog and it should show you the recent posts. I write about a lot of different topics, so if you want, you can subscribe to just one category. For example, if you only want my learning-related posts, you can subscribe to http://sachachua.com/blog/category/learning/feed .

I like using the free Feedly reader, and there are many other options out there. I hope you find something that works for you!

How I use Feedburner to give people the option of different blog update frequencies

I’ve been thinking about how to make it easier for people who want to keep in touch but who don’t want to be overwhelmed by my daily posting schedule. Instead of trying to come up with the Best Way on my own, I asked what people wanted. Out of 26 votes (as of the time I wrote this), ten people wanted weekly newsletters and three people wanted monthly newsletters. That probably means that even more people would like those less frequent update options, so I decided to spend some time figuring out a good way to offer that.

Since I already do weekly and monthly reviews, the easiest way would be to make those reviews available in a separate feed that people can subscribe to over RSS or e-mail. I’ve been using Feedburner as a way of making my feeds more browser-friendly and as a way to handle e-mail subscriptions. Although I’d been concerned about the long-term longevity of my feeds in case Feedburner shuts down, it turns out that you can set up your own domain name by following the instructions under My Account > MyBrand.

image

I set up my feeds to use feeds.sachachua.com instead of feeds.feedburner.com. That means that if Feedburner goes away, I just need to change my DNS record to point to my own server and write my own redirect rules. I wish I’d done this earlier! Anyway, if you subscribed to http://feeds.feedburner.com/sachac , please switch to using http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac instead.

With the new feed URLs in place, I created Feedburner feeds for my weekly and monthly reviews. Category feeds are built-in, so all I needed to do was tell Feedburner to handle http://sachachua.com/blog/category/weekly and http://sachachua.com/blog/category/monthly . I customized each feed to include a short message pointing to the other feeds (Optimize > BrowserFriendly), change the URL, and enable e-mail subscriptions (Publicize > Email Subscriptions).

image

Then I modified my WordPress theme to include links to the new feeds. To make the feeds available from the feed icon in many browsers’ address bars, I added the following code to my <head>…</head>:

<link rel="alternate" 
  type="application/rss+xml" 
  title="Feed (~daily)" 
  href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac" />
<link rel="alternate" 
  type="application/rss+xml" 
  title="Weekly reviews" 
  href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac-weekly" />
<link rel="alternate" 
  type="application/rss+xml" 
  title="Monthly reviews" 
  href="http://feeds.sachachua.com/sachac-monthly" />

Result:

image

I also added links to the feeds in my sidebar using the Appearance > Widgets > Text widget.

Now, people should be able to easily subscribe to whichever frequency they want. =)

On another note: I was surprised and delighted to find that many people wanted daily updates. Thank you! I’ll try to make my headlines useful so that you can guess right away if you would be interested in something, and we’ll see if I can write weekly review headlines with keywords as well.

If you blog a lot, I hope you find this tip handy!

IBM CASCON 2006: Social discovery and conferences

Another thing I want to build for IBM CASCON 2006 is an easy way to
create an OPML file for conference registrants and session attendees.
Imagine if you could associate your registration with a blog URL and
then be able to:

  • import an OPML file of all the conference registrants so far
  • read an aggregation of all the conference registrants
  • do the same for all the people who have registered for a particular session

Certainly, speakers with blogs should have them all listed. Tomorrow I’ll ask for permission to get in touch with all of the speakers and ask them for blog URLs. We’ll put together a page, export some OPML, throw up an aggregator (maybe even just a public Bloglines), and boom! Happy happy happy.

Even more advanced stuff: imagine a small-scale tech.memeorandum running against the speakers, the conference registrants, or session attendees… Imagine doing that with bookmarks, too! Maybe I can convince Pranam Kolari to do something like that.

In the future, people might even want to associate multiple blog URLs
with their profile. For example, if they write topic-focused blogs,
they might want their business blog to be aggregated with all the
other blogs for a marketing session, while their technical blog might
be better for the programming sessions. I don’t think we’re quite at
this point yet, but it should be easy enough to build.

Sounds like a terrific tool. I have one month to build this and all
the other nifty things I want to make for IBM CASCON 2006! I wonder if
my developer sponsor and my research supervisor mind if I do this…

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E-Mail from Aaron Kim

Feedburner rocks

Feedburner just added interactivity to
RSS feeds. People reading my RSS feed
through Feedburner can now easily e-mail things or add them to
del.icio.us. I should add similar links to my regular blog.

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Things you can do with RSS

Check out Things You Can Do with RSS for lots of interesting uses for RSS aggregators like Bloglines. =) Great stuff! It’s a wiki, so you can add your favorite use of RSS to the list too.

このコンピューターのことはよく知っている。 I know a lot about this computer.

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Bloglines

If you read a number of blogs that don’t update regularly, take advantage of RSS aggregators like Bloglines. You can retrieve all the new posts with a single click, automatically skipping blogs that haven’t been updated. You can also categorize the blogs you read into folders so that you can read through your news in sets.

Bloglines makes it easy for you to share your blogroll with other
people, too. Check out the settings to publish an aggregator that
other people can use. You can also include a snippet of code in your
blog template.

Adding new blogs to your Bloglines account is easy with the Bloglines
toolkit for Mozilla and Firefox. You can browse the directory for
other cool blogs, too. Bloglines is good stuff!

不正アクセスは、法律で取り締まるべき。 There should be a law against hacking into the system/computer.

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