Needing a Gentle Intro to RSS Feeds


Just read Mike Gunderloy’s post Times: Looks Aren’t Everything. One thing he said really stuck out for me…

Times is worth looking at, though, if you’re trying to gently introduce someone new to a few RSS feeds.

He’s talking about me, I thought, as I read that line. He knows my secret. And now you will know it, too.

I am terrified of RSS feed readers.

You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I have no problem saving feeds to my reader of choice – Google Reader – but have no idea how to get started with actually reading any of them. And using Google Reader is nothing more than a knee jerk choice based on using several other Google applications and finding them to be useful. But actually reading something in Google Reader?

(Cue the horror movie music – you know, the one that plays when the mutant serial killer is coming up behind the heroine.)

Reading RSS feeds should be an integral part of my daily work. In fact, reading about the latest industry news and industry pundit opinions is key to what I do – advising clients about their Internet strategies and writing about the latest and most useful Web tools. Instead of opening up my readers, however, I plow through a morass of emails across several email accounts, hoping to uncover a gem and never quite making a dent in my email inbox.

So today, I opened Google Reader with great trepidation. I note that I have 1000+ items that are unread. I break out into a sweat. Then I begin to browse. Then read.

Aliza's Reader

Here is what I’ve learned so far about reading my RSS feeds…

1. I can browse the new feeds. On Google Reader’s homepage, I get a brief summary of all the new items in my feed subscriptions. The ones featured today included Hold This Thought (feed) – podcasts by one of my clients, scribbit (feed) – a mommy blogger in Alaska and Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media (feed). Two of those are definitely relevant to the work I do. This isn’t so hard to do after all. I can skim and only click into the ones that capture my interest.

2. I have created sensible folders or categories. I figured out how to create folders early on to organize the many feeds I subscribe to but do not read. Currently, my categories are:

– Alaska – Only one feed here – scribbit. Moved it to Women Bloggers.
– Interesting Cool – Only one feed here – ChangeThis (feed). Need to figure out where to put this…or delete it.
– Marketing PR – Four feeds.
– Podcasts – My client’s feed is the only one here.
– Second Life – Twelve feeds, some of which should move to Virtual Worlds.
– Social Media – Seven feeds. They all look excellent.
– Techie Techie – Four feeds. Could really help me with my WWD posts.
– Time Wasting Entertainment – Two feeds – Gawker (feed) and Valleywag (feed). They just sit there, tempting me.
– Virtual Worlds – One feed – a repeat of a feed in Second Life folder. Unsubscribed from one of them.
– Women Bloggers – Three feeds. Wondering if they should be categorized in another way

3. I’m not a Power Feed Reader, but that’s okay. I’ve been looking at the 1000+ items number at the top of my reader but the truth is, I really have only subscribed to about 36 feeds, one of which I deleted today because it was a duplicate and another that I’m wondering if I need to subscribe to it at all.

I’m a lightweight when it comes to RSS feeds but that’s okay. I’m sure that once I get the hang of reading feeds through my reader, I’ll start down the slippery slope of feed addiction. But knowing that my fear of feeds may have been mostly unfounded is embarrassing but also a relief.

4. I should tighten my feed focus. Looking at my category list, I do see room for improvement. Delete Alaska. Delete Time Wasting Entertainment. Redistribute Women Bloggers feeds in order to delete that category. Merge Second Life and Virtual Worlds.

If I only could read 3 categories – Social Media, Second Life, and Techie Techie – I’d be reading the bulk of my feeds and be laser focused on reading that directly informs my work.

5. I need to eavesdrop more on friends. I haven’t thought about it before, but I should be taking a peek at what items my friends are sharing, particularly those in my industry. Just like I benefit from seeing what my Twitter friends in my industry are reading, poking around other people’s feeds could pull up some gems that I might not dig up otherwise.

Case in point – found a link to a great blog post by Seth Godin. Ah, Seth Godin – I should be subscribed to his blog feed.

6. I must use the Subscribe button with care. I have a subscribe button on my browser tool bar to easily add a new feed to my reader. However, I must not be trigger happy with that button. I need to make a point of browsing through a blog beyond the single post that I find interesting to make sure it is worth adding to my feed. I do happen to know that Seth Godin’s blog (feed) is great, and I’m remiss for not having subscribed sooner.

But just because one post is amazing, doesn’t always mean that the blogger is consistent or that they regularly blog on topics that are relevant to my work.

Well, I’m feeling a lot less overwhelmed. I will make a plan to read a few items in the feeds in my top three categories – Social Media, Second Life, and Techie Techie – over coffee tomorrow morning while my husband reads the paper. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How do you categorize, manage and read your RSS feeds?



Good-Fellow said:
“I use netvibes for my feeds. I now have several tabs…

Most tabs I browse the article titles and open the items I want to read in a new tab. After having 20 tabs open I start reading and/or closing them. Then I mark all items on one or more tabs ‘read’.”

I have pretty much the same process (and I thought I was so unique and special!) and am hooked on my Netvibes simply for the variety of feeds/utilities that I can access through that one portal.

I love being able to have different tabs for different categories because it allows me to tailor what I’m looking at to my mood at the moment.

I also don’t feel the same pressure as I did in Google Reader because the number of unread feeds is less obtrusive and easier to ignore in Netvibes.


You may find the List View in Google Reader easier to skim than the Expanded View. Since you see only titles of posts you can cover a lot of ground very very quickly.

I also agree with Andrew’s comment about ruthlessness — both with feeds themselves and with content. If having 1000+ unread bugs you, go for the “Mark Read” button and don’t look back.

Deon Binneman

Checking my feeds is part of checking my Inbox and applying the GTD Philosophy.

I recently installed Newsgator for Outlook. What I like about it is that I can immedialy delete or e-mail that post to my Contacts – which currently is at about 8500.

Staying up to date is important to me. I use the delete button judiciously, and file the posts I want to keep.



I use Google Reader avid-like! I notice I tend to only read certain subjects more often. Don’t feel obligated to finish reading it all! I stick the whole web as I know it into the thing.

When I want to see whats going on internet-wise I slip through and see what’s interesting. Then I can go back to my life and know I didn’t miss much.

You can get feeds for job listings (simplyhired searches), podcasts, news searches. I mostly stick to tech news, graphic design tips, lifehacks, local news. But I have categories set up for things that I read less often. So when I really feel like I want to know about all the new movie reviews, I have it at my finger tips without dealing with bookmarks and looking at sites that didn’t even update

Michelle at Scribbit

If my feeds build up where I haven’t been reading them and they get past 200 I just mark them all as “read” and start over, it gets too overwhelming to try and keep up.

Also, I won’t subscribe to a feed that’s partial rather than full. I’m afraid I have so little time to read that to have to click through to read the full post is time consuming. Selfish I know but there it is.

I’m honored you’ve include me though! Wow–I made the cuts!


I’m a big Google Reader fan, and have about 200 feeds. I have a bunch of folders categorized by general topic, but I always scroll through everything at once in the “All Feeds” view using, like Mike Woodhouse, the J and K keys.

I think a key attribute for managing feeds is ruthlessness. If a post doesn’t interest me pretty quickly, I go on to the next one in seconds. I add new feeds all the time, but unsubscribe just as quickly from ones that don’t keep my attention.


I’m an RSS junkie…. but it can get overwhelming without the right reader. I love FeedDemon ( it’s free and makes managing feeds ridiculously easy. It even has a “Panic Button” feature when you see you have 10,000 unread items… which I have used on more than one occasion! :-)

Mike Woodhouse

I have about 120 feeds at any time, also subscribed through Google Reader. I add new ones regularly and also remove feeds periodically. The ones that are deleted are the ones that, over time, I notice I’m skipping because I’m not seeing stuff that interests me.

I’m a big fan of the “j” and “k” keys, by the way.

I apply stars and also tag with keywords to put useful posts into virtual folders. I don’t dig into those very often but the tagging activity is low cost, so it works out.


I use netvibes for my feeds. I now have several tabs;

{General | Web | CSS | Design | SEO | CRM | Blogging | Freelancing | Tutorials | Try-outs }

Most tabs I browse the article titles and open the items I want to read in a new tab. After having 20 tabs open I start reading and/or closing them. Then I mark all items on one or more tabs ‘read’.

As for the Try-outs tabs, well, these blogs still have to win my subscription. Automaticly you start remembering the blogs that have good articles you read and then ‘approve’ them to a corresponding tab. I have to say though, most get deleted and I never see them again.

And yes, Web Worker Daily made it to the freelancing tab ;-) Thanks for the great posts!

Paolo Amoroso

I use Google Reader and currently subscribe to 213 feeds. I skim item titles and read only interesting posts. I prefer reading in Google Reader because for sites with bad fonts, color, formatting or layout it considerably improves readability.

Mitch Wagner

You’re doing it wrong.

I have a folder called “fast favs,” which contains all the feeds I try to read every day. There are 13 of them, and I’m very, very cautious about adding any new ones lest that folder get overwhelmed. They include InformationWeek (the publication I write for), Ars Technica, Daring Fireball, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the San Diego Union-Tribune – just enough to give me an overview of the world, technology, and local news. Plus one or two fun feeds, like

“Fav” is about 30 feeds, and it includes all the feeds in Fast Favs, plus a few more technology sites, Boing Boing and Brazen Careerist. That gives me a broader overview. I read it if I have time, usually a few times a week.

Another key folder: Friends, for friends’ blogs. You’re in there, along with a couple of dozen others. To tell the truth, I’ve been slacking off on that folder.

And I have folders for News and Tech, and a couple of other categories – Quotes, for instance, for quote-of-the-day sites.

The *only* folder I consider a must-read is “fast favs.” If I have a little more time, I read “fav.” If I have some leisure time, I read “friends.” If I have still *more* time (which happens a couple of times a year), I just start at the “all items” button in Google Reader and read.

And I don’t worry about unread counts. This isn’t e-mail; you don’t have to read every one. My Google Reader account has had 1000+ unread items almost since the day I opened it.

If I see a new site that looks interesting, I add it — usually to “fav,” sometimes to “friends.” After a few days, I can tell whether I still like it and act accordingly: Assign it to “fast favs,” (very rarely), unsubscribe entirely , or move to “news” or “tech.”

Carrie S.

I use Bloglines – I’ve heard Google Reader is just as good, but I went with Bl before I found out about GR. It’s a complete sanity saver – especially when I get overwhelmed and just mark everything as read…

The Mighty Mommy

It took me a while to become comfortable with RSS feeds. I originally used Google Reader also, but now I use FeedDemon. I find that I’m more likely to look at my feeds if I have a notification reminding me to do so. I need to be reminded to do everything, so I spend a lot of time setting up reminders.

I have only two sections of feeds; Work and Personal. One of my job duties is to check comments on network blog posts so I subscribe through my reader. It makes my job easier because without a feed reader, I’d have to bookmark or go to each individual site each day.

If and when I find an item of interest, and I think it has merit to be viewed again, I add it to my reader. If after a week I’m still not reading it, I usually unsubscribe. I don’t keep it as clean as I could, but I’ve definitely seen things I would have missed otherwise.



I don’t. I use Google Reader and I have about 200 feeds. The only folder is a work folder that makes it easy to ignore work specific feeds on the weekends. Otherwise, if I notice myself skipping over a feed regularly I’ll just delete it.

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