Setting Up Google Reader: the No-Brainer Edition

This post is the next in an ongoing series, “Geek Decoder Ring.” If you’re not a geek, have no desire to become a geek, but would like to understand what the heck the geeks in your life are talking about, this series is for you.

Okay, so in our last post in the series, we talked about RSS–what it is, and why it’s a good thing.

One of the things we mentioned in the “why it’s a good thing” discussion was that it can be a great way to save time, providing you use an RSS reader to subscribe to your favorite blogs, podcasts and other RSS-enabled web stuff, because it gives you a centralized location to check for all the latest updates, rather than running hither and yon all around the (extremely distraction-filled) world wide web.

So because this is a beginners series, we’re going to keep things as simple as possible. There are, quite frankly, a lot of RSS readers out there. I’m not going to talk about all of them. I’m just going to show you how to set up what will probably be the simplest one for you: Google Reader.

If you already have a Google account, for Gmail, Google Analytics, Adwords or one of the other signs of Google’s slow but certain total world domination, bully for you. Log in using your existing Google account login information. If not, you’ll need to create an account.

Okay, once you’re logged in, if you like, you can watch Chris Wetherell’s scintillating (I’m sure) video on how to use Google Reader. Or if you’re pressed for time, you can go directly to the left column, look for the blue and white plus sign icon next to the words “Add a Subscription.”

HA! Bet you thought you were going to have to know the feed address, right? Nope–most of the time, just typing in the regular old “www.website.com” URL will do. Google Reader will find any RSS feeds associated with that page. Smooooooooth.

If you only have a relative few (let’s say <25 or 30) feeds you’d like to follow, you can just type them all in like that. If you have a ton of sites you want to follow, you might want to organize your feeds by creating Folders or Tags in the “Manage Feeds” section. If you’re brand spanking new to feeds and feed readers, you might want to start off slow, though. RSS can make consuming web content almost TOO easy–it can be a bit like drinking from a fire hose.

Okay, so you’ve got your nifty feeds all tucked into Google Reader, and right about now you may be thinking “And this is better than just bookmarking them in my browser how?”

You should quickly be able to figure that out though. If you click on either “All Items” or one of your subscriptions in the list in the left column, the center column will fill up with lovely content. There are two views: List View, or Expanded View. List gives you the headlines only as links, and Expanded View will give you the whole post (unless that particular blog is only sending excerpts via RSS, in which case you’ll see the whole excerpt, but have to click through to their site to see the entire post.) I like Expanded View myself, but you may prefer to just skim headlines till something catches your eye. You can also “Share,” “Star,” “Tag” or “Email” posts you like particularly well.

If you want to check something out again later, you can also “Keep Unread.” As you scroll through the content, you’ll notice that the outline gets brighter blue for each post. That’s telling Google Reader that you’ve seen this content, so next time you check your feeds, it won’t include stuff you’ve already read.

If you’re in a terrible rush, you can always “Mark All as Read.” See? How painless what all that?

Now you’re probably wondering if there isn’t a faster way to get fed. Ah yes, my friend. There is indeed. And we’ll discuss that in the next episode of the Geek Decoder Ring series, next Monday. 🙂

img courtesy svilen001 on sxc

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