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?

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