Tips and Tricks: Making the Most of Google Reader


Although I’ve tried several feed readers, Google Reader (s goog) is the only one I’ve used for more than a year. Not everyone will agree with my choice, but its simple and straightforward interface was probably the reason why I stayed with it for this long. But, despite its simplicity, there are many ways for the average reader to customize their Google Reader experience. Here are some examples:

Change Google Reader to Suit Your Aesthetics

Though there aren’t many visual settings you can change within Google Reader itself, there are many available skins and Firefox add-ons that can do this for you.

One of them is Better Greader by Gina Trapani. It allows you to view pages inline, which isn’t practical for netbooks but looks great on bigger monitors. It also comes with a few minimalist skins, including the stunning Helvetireader. If you’re familiar with CSS, you can take it a step further and modify Helvetireader yourself. For those who want a darker look, check out Google Redesigned. It adds a sleek dark skin to Google Calendar, Reader and Gmail.

Use Trends to Streamline Your Subscription List

Around once a month, I check out the “Trends” section of Google Reader. It’s an easy way to check the feeds that I don’t read often. I unsubscribe any feed with a reading rate below 50 percent, because this means that most of the time I don’t get much value out of that subscription.

Under the “Subscription Trends” section, you can also display the most inactive feeds, as well as the most frequently updated ones. This allows you to delete feeds from defunct blogs, or from blogs that update more often than you like.

Streamlining your subscriptions with data from Google Reader Trends can tell you a lot about your feed reading habits. This means that you’ll be evaluating subscriptions based on facts rather than the hope of “I’m sure someday I’ll get some interest/value out of this feed.”

Process Your Reading List Faster by Starring

Google Reader has a “Starred Items” feature that allows you to attach a star to important items. Instead of using this feature to have a lengthy archive of previously-read posts, you can use this it to speed up your processing time within Google Reader. Here’s how I do it:

  1. I view my new reading items under “All Items,” under “Show” I select “List” by default.
  2. Looking at all the listed titles, I star every item that I want to read in full. Then, I click “Mark all as read.”
  3. I go to the “Starred Items” section and read each item one by one, un-starring them as I go along.

With this practice I can often finish reading my entire list in one short sitting, or I can go back and read them later when I have free time. And when I go back, I don’t have to sift through other unread items that I already processed earlier in the day.

Add the “Subscribe as You Surf” Bookmarklet.

When I use the default RSS button on Firefox to subscribe, it takes me to a page where I have to choose my feed reader, then when I choose “Google” I have to select Google Reader. To avoid these multiple steps, I use a bookmarklet to make the subscription process easier. Go to Settings > Goodies, and under “Subscribe as you surf” drag the “Subscribe…” link onto your Bookmarks toolbar.

Share Items Directly from Your Reading List

As Charlie noted earlier this year, by going to Settings > Send To, you can enable Google Reader to share selected feed items to Digg, Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, and other social media sites. After doing this you’ll be able to see a “Send To” menu at the bottom of each post (see image below). This automates sharing as much as possible, although you’ll have to log in to your social media accounts if you haven’t done so already.

Know Your Keyboard Shortcuts

In my experience, navigating Google Reader tends to be faster with keyboard shortcuts. At the very least, minimizing mouse movements in general prevents your hand from getting too strained. Print out this handy keyboard shortcut list and keep it near your desk until you’ve memorized them by heart.

Do you use Google Reader? How do you customize it to suit your needs and habits?


Jamie L

Many thanks for the tips! by the way Mike, I didnt see that extension before! This is what I need! Why don’t google have features like that. It’s so much more convenient to scan through the bunch of headlines and read the important ones later.

Alex Kessinger

I also like to have a triage list of folders, like 1, 2, 3, 4 and I put my favorites in 1, and so fourth, so if I have like 10 minutes I can just read 1.

David Henderson

I’ve been using feedly with my G-Reader subscriptions, and it’s been a great improvement in the reading experience and my efficiency. I can often get through my important feeds in one much shorter sitting.

Mike Dunham

If you’re using Firefox, get the Read It Later extension. Then you can go through G-Reader and just check off whatever headlines look interesting, and you’ll be left with a more manageable list of links that you actually want to give a second look.

Gary Gregory

Informative post. I am not a big fan of readers. Since I have a lot of the Google applications, this post has inspired me to look further into it.

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