Sometimes we take for granted some of the time-saving tools that make our lives better every day. Google Reader is one of those tools.
RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a file format that makes it easy to share content. Pretty much every blog and even many non-blog websites use RSS as a distribution feed that is an alternative to the standard website.
While it’s possible to use some browsers to view individual RSS feeds, most RSS content is consumed by subscribing. Most websites will show an RSS icon in the browser, alerting the user that a feed is available for subscription. RSS is a popular delivery mechanism for podcasts, and we publish the Auction Podcast by RSS in addition to iTunes.
Programs or services that allow you to subscribe to multiple feeds are called RSS aggregators. Google Reader is one of these aggregators.
Reader uses your standard Gmail account and allows a user to subscribe to multiple RSS feeds. It then sorts the articles in all of these feeds in chronological order and presents them in a single, unified feed.
Reader allows sorting the feeds into categories. For example, we have separate categories for technology news, science and skepticism articles, and for auction news.
Google Reader is a social application. When you have friends configured with Reader, you can flag interesting articles that you read and your friends can see these articles in their feed. Reader can also be used with other services to automatically push selected stories to Twitter or Facebook.
This article sharing feature is very powerful. You can actually create an RSS feed from these shared items, creating essentially a personal news filter of the articles that interest you. We use this feature to generate the AuctioneerTech news page, which is simply an RSS feed of our shared items embedded on a web page.
Google Reader keeps track of the articles you’ve read so it doesn’t present them to you again. By publishing an API, Reader allows other news aggregators to synchronize their content with Google Reader.
Consuming content with Google Reader is a great experience. Keyboard shortcuts – J for next article and K for previous article – make it super fast to burn through a ton of articles in no time. There are browser extensions to improve the Google Reader experience. Plugins like Better Greader – included in our AuctioneerTech Firefox add-on collection published last December – and Reader Plus for Google Chrome allow users to apply different themes or fonts and even to remove the header and footer, leaving only the raw content.
We use Google Reader every day on multiple computers and devices. If you’ve found a better RSS feed reader, let us know in the comments. If you’re a Google Reader user, leave us feedback at auctioneertech.com/feedback so we can add you to our friends.