Like it or not, RSS is now very popular across the internet, and it is widely believed to be the most productive way of staying updated on your favourite blogs and sites. The ease and efficiency of RSS feeds vs. visiting the actual web page has allowed people to subscribe to many more sites than they would regularly have time to read. Unfortunately, as your feeds pile up, you are forced to spend more and more time on your feed reader. Here are ten steps to (hopefully) help you streamline your feeds, and reduce the time you spend on your feeds each day.
1. Choose the right feed reader. Not all feed readers were created equal. Some have more features than others, and some are more convenient than others. It is important to find the right feed reader for you. If you only subscribe to a small number of blogs, you might want to check out a start-page with feed widgets, such as Google Personal Home, Netvibes, or Protopage. All of these services are designed to be your homepage, so you can usually change the color scheme, move around widgets, integrate your favourite search box, the weather, and much more, as well as monitor your feeds. If you subscribe to a higher volume of feeds, consider a reader with more organizing features, such as Google Reader. With Google reader, you can organize your feeds into folders, as well as give labels to individual articles. Personally, I use Google Reader, and I think that it is definitely the way to go if you seek organization options.
2. Use folders or pages to organize your feeds. If you can, group similar feeds together using folders in Google Reader, or pages in other feed readers such as Net vibes. You’ll find it much easier to digest information when all the other feeds on that page are related. Having an unorganized pile of feeds will require unnecessary clicking, and you may miss important or urgent information from a feed if you don’t visit that page.
3. Evaluate feed structure regularly. Once in a while you need to just stop and look at your feed reading setup, and ask yourself if you can make any changes to make it more efficient. Possibly moving a feed into a different folder, or combining folders in the case of Google Reader, or maybe moving a feed widget to a different page in Net vibes. You just need to sit down and re-organize sometimes, in order to keep your feeds organized.
4. Unsubscribe from feeds you don’t need. The other day I realized that under the ‘financial’ folder in my feed reader, I had about 8 feeds. Now normally I browse by folder, so I don’t usually take note of which blog an article is from, unless it catches my eye and I read it. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice that most of the articles I skipped had been from the same 2 blogs in my financial category. After unsubscribing from these two blogs, my folder became much more streamlined and less cluttered. If you are using Google Reader, an easy way to check which blogs you read most is to use the ‘trends’ feature. I find this particularly useful, because it shows both the posting frequency of each blog, and the percentage of articles that you actually read.
5. Take advantage of time-saving shortcuts. If your feed reader offers keyboard shortcuts, make sure to take advantage of these. They can often save a lot of time and effort, especially when dealing with a large volume of feeds. In Google reader, you can press ‘u’ to hide the sidebar, ‘l’ to apply a label, and ‘n’ or ‘p’ to navigate between stories.
6. Only read feeds when your have time. Reading your feeds can be addictive, and thus you need to establish your priorities. If you are in a rush, or you have something else that is fairly important and urgent, then do not read your feeds! Feeds should always be second to any actual work, so restrain yourself from constantly checking your feeds while working.
7. Determine which feeds are “urgent”. Even when you are rushed, there are some feeds who’s content may only be applicable to a short time-span. For example, my subscription to Woot! And Giveaway of the Day are both daily deals, and therefore need to be read before other feeds. Recognizing what is urgent and what is not can help you work when you need, without constantly thinking of your feeds.
8. Take advantage of your reader’s other features. Each reader is unique, and likely has many features that are unique to itself. That’s why you should go through all your options, and maybe check out the help menu to discover new features. Making effective use of your specific feed reader’s capabilities is one of the biggest steps towards more productive feed reading.
9. Discover new feeds with sharing options. If you are using Google Reader, a useful option is the ‘Shared Items’. If you have any friends who use Google Reader, you can subscribe to their shared items feed, and receive updates on whatever they decide to share with you. This is really a group effort, but it can really help you discover new feeds, as well as share your favourites with your friends. I am not sure if this feature is available in other readers.
10. Use Firefox extensions or Greasemonkey scripts. If you are using a popular feed reader, you might be able to find extensions or scripts that can help customize your feed reading experience. Personally, I use the Google Reader Notifier plugin for Firefox, which displays the number of unread items in my GR account. I also use a grease monkey script which shows a small feed-icon on every webpage, and it displays a checkmark if I have already subscribed to that feed. This can help prevent subscribing twice, or not knowing if you’ve subscribed to a page or blog.
11. Subscribe to Gearfire’s RSS feed.