The Techie Scheky series offers tips and tactics for being more productive and creative through technology (especially with a Mac).
The web is a time suck. There is no doubt about that. But there are things you can do to make a better use of your time while still having a little fun. Most people tend to look at the biggest time suck as all of the things you read on the web, but the truth of the matter is the actual waste of time is visiting all of these sites in the first place. Almost every webpage you visit makes it easy to bring the latest and greatest content from your favorite sites right to you through a technology called RSS or Really Simple Syndication. Services like Google Reader and applications like Reeder for the iOS1 leverage these RSS feeds in order to make it easy to quickly aggregate content from around the web.
What on earth do you mean by that?
Most people know RSS as those orange or blue icons with the three squiggly lines that you see on websites and unceremoniously ignore (and the rest of you just learned what those icons actually are…). RSS is one of the least understood concepts on the web, but when you break it down it is actually rather simple. As new articles are added to any site that has an RSS feed, they can automatically be picked up and pulled into an RSS reader. See, like I said: simple. The benefit here is rather than visiting all of your favorite sites one at a time, you can simply pull their RSS feed and have all of the latest posts come directly to you. This guarantees that you will never miss a single post from any of your favorite sites at all and better yet, you don’t have to waste your time visiting them one by one.
And how do I use that?
I use both my Mac and my iPhone/iPad to browse through my RSS feeds and find the articles that I want to read. While there are tons of services that you can use, here are my two favorites:
Google Reader – While several people prefer full-fledged applications like NewsNetWire or Reeder for Mac, I love the web-based Google Reader. It is free, the learning curve is slight and once you get the hang of it, you will quickly be able to move through your feeds and find the articles worth reading. You can add new feeds directly from the application (many sites also make it easy to quickly add their RSS feed to your account), see the latest stories, “star” articles for later and find out what your friends are sharing through their own accounts. Your Google Reader account can also power Reeder for the iPad and the iPhone, making it easy to catch up with your favorite sites on the go. Speaking of Reeder…
Reeder – When you’re on the go, this slick iOS application for the iPhone ($2.99) and the iPad ($4.99) will make reviewing and reading your RSS easy… You can’t add new feeds through the application, but it is by far the quickest way to see what new stories are available. It also allows you to use built-in Google Reader functions such as star, mark as unread or share with friends in addition to more robust sharing options such as Twitter, Facebook, Email and my personal favorite, Instapaper (more on this amazing app in next week’s Techie Scheky post). Once you upload the latest stories, Reeder also allows for offline reading, which is an essential feature for anyone who spends as much time on the subway as I do (or who has AT&T service…).
But be careful…
Once you start pulling in feeds there are two common challenges:
I See EVERYTHING – Once you start pulling a sites feed, you often get everything they post. Larger sites like CNN.com will allow you to pull separate feeds for separate sections (like Money and Entertainment), but smaller sites just send everything new over one feed. This can quickly overwhelm you. The best way to handle this is to quickly can through your Google Reader or Reeder account and either “star” or send the articles you want to read to a service like Instapaper while marking the rest as read. Once you review everything, then go back and read your starred articles. Don’t just read the ones you want while you process everything; this stop-and-go approach will make reviewing and reading your feeds take a lot longer.
Feed Overload – It is far too easy to add new feeds and you may soon find yourself overloaded. Once this happens, you will start to feel as if RSS isn’t really useful. The truth is that this is less about the actual merit of RSS and more about our inability to edit the feeds we pull. If you want to make RSS useful, you need to keep it to the sites you really read. If you are rarely reading anything from a certain site or blogger, just get rid of it. Another helpful hint is to leverage Google Reader’s ability to create folders; this way you can break sites into manageable categories like Entertainment, Education, Industry, Brand Monitoring (more in the Geeky Quick Tip below) and more. You can also put feeds in multiple folders, so you may want to have a Must-Read folder for sites that you cannot afford to miss.
If you find yourself spending too much time looking for new content on the web, you really need to learn to leverage RSS. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for the most up-to-date information in your industry or need a better way to see all of the latest LOLcats, RSS provides a far more efficient method for bending the web to your whim, rather than the other way around.
Geeky Quick Tip
For those of you who like to monitor the latest things being said about your company, or even yourself, but aren’t looking to pay for an expensive monitoring service, can use RSS. Start by creating Google Alerts and Social Mention alerts for the phrases and keywords you want to monitor and pull the results into your Google Reader account. Create a folder specifically for these feeds. While it is certainly not as robust as the paid services, you can gain a tremendous amount of insights about your or your business from all around the web. If you want to learn more about creating a research or listening station, I’d suggest checking out these posts from Danny Brown and Chris Brogan.
iPhone and iPad ↩