Monday, May 19, 2008

Getting more out of RSS and Google Reader



Since I started using Google Reader and reading RSS feeds on a daily basis, I don't go to visit my favorite websites in order to learn what is new. I don't need to since they come to me instead. I have plugged their information flow into my own flow of information by subscribing to their RSS feed(s). It helps me feel very up-to-date about what is happening. I am less likely to miss out on content that might be of value just because I forget to visit the web site for a while.

Overall I am very satisfied with this way of finding and digesting information. I am also satisfied with my reader, which has been Google Reader since the start. But being satisfied does not mean that I do not want to get more out of both RSS as a technology and from Google Reader. In fact, it works the opposite way. Being satisfied makes me want to get more and I'll share some of the things that I want with you in this post. It has mostly got to do with Google Reader.

Accessing information
Google Reader is really easy to access since I can read the RSS feeds I subscribe to via Google Reader both from any computer and from my smartphone. The mobile version of Google Reader is really neat and makes it almost easier to digest the feeds than the regular version. Reading RSS is a perfect thing to do while waiting sitting on the train, being in-between meetings or just going somewhere on foot.

What I am still missing is the ability to read RSS feeds which require authentication. I would like to be able to access internal information from my company via RSS using the same reader as I use for all my external feeds. Right now I need to use Outlook 2007 for the internal feeds from SharePoint, but since Google Reader is where I read most of my feeds I simply forget to read the internal feeds (besides, I need to be logged on to the domain to retrieve new items from the internal feeds). It would be great if there was a way to use Google Reader for internal feeds as well, although I know that it is not something that the Google Reader team can solve for me on their own.

Organizing information
Being able to categorize feeds into different folders in Google Reader helps me manage a large number of feeds (I group them by subject). However, since a lot of the feeds contain information on different subjects I would like to be able to tag individual items in the feeds as well. Currently I can add a star to an item which I find valuable and would like to keep for later, but the number of "starred items" soon grows very large. Thus I would like to have the possibility to tag items that I add a star to and to be able to browse or search starred items by my own tags.

Sharing information
I really like the new feature of Google Reader that allows me to share items with friends (other Reader users that I know and trust). Since this sharing works both ways, I also get access to items that my friends share with me. Supposing that they know what I am interested in and vice versa, we help each other to get hold of interesting information. Reading the same things and knowing that we do so make it easier to discuss certain topics or collaborate on a common task. I can also add a note to an item which I want to share, which is really good since I can tell others why I like to share the item.

Although I know this feature is quire new and in trial stage, I would already like a lot more from it. First of all, I would like to be able to share items with specific friend instead of all of them. I want to be able to share items that I know a specific friend is interested in and which other friends might not be. I also would like my friends to have the possibility to share items with me that they believe I would be interested in . Right now, this feature is a little egocentric. It is more "I find this information interesting so I'll share it with all my friends" than "I believe my friend X could interested in this information so I'll share it with him".

I am pretty sure that the feature to share items with friends is just the first step in Google Reader becoming a social RSS reader, more like FriendFeed. If you're interested in knowing more about this feature, you can read more about sharing on the Official Google Reader Blog.

Other things…
Then there are some other things that I am not really satisfied with and where Google Reader can't help me out. First of all, since I use RSS as my main way to obtain information, I get annoyed when I find a new web site with good content but which do not offer it to me via RSS. Secondly, I would like all my friends and people which I would like to share and exchange information with to obtain information in the same way as I do, using the same reader. This way I could easily share interesting items in my feeds with them and they could share interesting items in their feeds with me.

Well that's about it. I’ll continue persuading friends and colleagues to start using RSS and Google Reader so that we can all share new and interesting information with each other.

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