Google Reader is a convenient, web-based way of keeping up to date with many different web sites without having to keep visiting them. Subscribing to RSS feed via Google Reader also enables you to use apps on the Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad and other devices. This tutorial shows you how to use Google Reader. Check out other tutorials on how to extend its features with standalone apps.
Go to Google Reader
Visit http://google.com/reader and sign in with your Google account (or create one if you haven’t got one already)
The Google Reader interface
This is my Google Reader. You can see I’ve already subscribed to quite a few web sites, and organised them in to folders. Your interface will look slightly different, but not for long!
The view you can see here, with the story on the right hand side, is the "expanded view" – you can see all of the story and any images. This is great for scrolling through your feeds but if there are a lot of them it might be a bit much.
This is a clearer image of my subscriptions in their folders.
Clicking on "List" converts the listing to something more manageable, and you can click on the stories you want to read.
Full text feeds
There are two types of RSS feed – "full text" and extract only. Full text feeds, like The Guardian, give you the whole story so you can read it without going to the original site. Extract feeds, like BBC News, only give you a headline and summary, or sometimes the first few sentences. To read those you have to click the headline, and the original page should appear in a new tab (so Google Reader is still available to you).
This is the same story as it appears on the website. Note that The Guardian doesn’t put its images in its feed, but other sites do.
Subscribing to a web site
Visit a site you want to subscribe to – here I’m visiting engadget.com. Copy and past the URL from your browser’s title bar (http://www.engadget.com).
Alternatively, if the site has a specific RSS link (in this case it’s the "subscribe" button), then right click on it and select "copy link". This can be useful if a site offers different feeds for different sections.
In Google Reader, click the "Add a subscription" button and paste the URL in to the window that appears. Of course, if you already know the URL of the site you want to subscribe to, you can type it in without copying and pasting it first.
This is the result. I now have Engadget’s feed in my subscriptions. Note that it is a "full feed" with images, and that Engadget now appears at the bottom of my subscription list. Let’s move it in to a folder.
Organising your feeds
If you have folders already, you can drag and drop the feed title to where you want it to appear.
Creating a new folder
Creating a new folder isn’t as easy as it should be. Go to the "Manage subscriptions" link at the bottom of the page and find the feed you want to put in to a new folder. Click on the "Change folders…" button and scroll to the bottom of the list and select "New folder…"
Searching for interesting sites
What if you want to subscribe to a site but don’t know where it is, or want to look for all the blogs of jewellery designers? Simply type a search term in the "Add a subscription" panel. In this example, I’m searching for "packaging design".
A list of possible sites appears, ordered by popularity. To see the site and decide if it’s worth following, click on the link. If you want to subscribe, click on the "Subscribe" button.
Managing your subscriptions
The "manage subscriptions" link is at the bottom of the screen (or you can access it via the "Settings" link at the top of the page).
The subscriptions panel will appear. Here you can rename blog titles to something more useful to you, move them to different folders, create new folders (see above) or delete them by clicking on the trash can.
Changing your preferences
You can change Google Reader’s behaviour here. The "mark items as read when you scroll past them" is a useful feature, but you might find it annoying, so it’s worth remembering you can turn it off here.
Sharing folders and tags
You can rename or delete folders and tags in the "Folders and Tags" panel.
A folder is a collection of feeds you’ve grouped together. A tag is a way of itemising articles for future reference. See below.
Google Reader has some useful sharing features.
Sharing a folder
Let’s imagine that you want to share all your Design blog subscriptions on your own blog, and they’re all in a folder. Simply tick the box of the folders you want to share, then clicj the "Change sharing…" menu, and select "Public".
Sharing specific posts instead of whole folders
You might prefer to have a bit more control over which posts you share, instead of entire folders. To do this, use tags. As explained above, tags are a great way of just noting specific articles – e.g. you could have articles in lots of folders but several of them deal with something relevant to a certain project you’re doing. Instead of creating a folder and moving the whole feed to the folder, you can just tag individual articles and click on the tag to see all of them together, irrespective of where they are kept.
You’ll see some options come up. All folders that are shared automatically appear as a "public page" which you can share with people, but it’s not as powerful as some of the other sharing features, so is best ignored for now. The two of interest are "add a clip" and "add a blogroll".
A clip is a list of all stories from the folder, a blogroll is a list of blogs. If you have a lot of blogs in your folder it’s probably best to use the "blogroll".
Whether you choose to put a clip or a blogroll on your site the process is the same. Give it a title and decide how many entries it will show (don’t do too many, particularly for a clip!) "Show item notes" gives you the ability to annotate the things you share (see below).
If you’re using Blogger for your blog, just click the "Add to Blogger" button to put the clip/blogroll in your sidebar. If you’re using another platform such as WordPress, you’ll need to copy the code in the bottom window and add it manually in your site’s control panel.
The Goodies panel contains a few useful tools. These can be dragged to your browser’s bookmark bar for easy access (don’t drag them on to browsers on public computers – only your own!).
"Note in Google Reader": if you’re on a web page and you see a story you want to share and write a note about, use this button.
The most useful is probably "Subscribe as your surf". It’s an easy way of adding a website to Google Reader. Just drag it to your bookmark bar and then when you’re on a site you want to subscribe to, click it. Google Reader will open and automatically add the site to your list.
When you drag it to your bookmark bar you can rename it if you wish.
Here’s the button in Safari.
Importing and Exporting
You can import and export your subscriptions. This is handy if you have a large collection of useful sites that you want to give to a friend. The file type is called "OPML"
Sending stories to Twitter, Blogger, Facebook etc
Google Reader supports several social networking platforms and these can be found under the "Send to" tab. Click the ones you use. I’ll add a tutorial on using Delicious at a later date – it’s a very powerful bookmark sharing service that you’ll find useful for dissertation and project research, and for team-based projects.
At the bottom of each story you’ll see a "send to" link. Click on it to see a list of all the services you selected in the control panel. Google Reader will open up the service with the relevent URL copied in automatically.
Once you’ve started building up a collection of sites to follow, get in to the habit of checking in every now and then. First thing in the morning, or last thing at night.
Tag articles you find interesting so you can find them later, or post about them on your own blog.
You may prefer to use an "offline reader" – this is an application that connects to Google Reader and downloads all the latest stories to read at your leisure rather than online and using a web browser. On the Mac, one of the best is NetNewsWire which comes in a free version.
On the iPhone and iPad I recommend Reeder. There are plenty of options around for other platforms as well.