RSS and a simpler life

Once upon a time in the not so distant past I didn’t read very many blogs at all. I hadn’t found many I was interested in, and the few I was interested in I could go and look at on a pretty regular basis (I figured if I forgot then the blog must not have been that interesting in the first place).

Come about May this year, though, and I decided it was time to gain a more in-depth understanding of the library world, and the concerns facing those who work in it; after all this understanding makes it easier to really work with people in libraries to provide better user experiences — whether the users are library users, or librarians themselves. Now, I found quite a few blogs that I liked, and visiting them all regularly was really becoming a problem; the bookmarks toolbar in Firefox was getting decidedly crowded, and then I couldn’t remember what I had visited. Even then, often I would visit to find that there was nothing new for me to read; some of my favourite blogs are updated only a few times a month.

I’d known about RSS for a long time, but had not assumed there was anything in it for me until the blogs in my life got out of control…at that point I decided I had more to gain than lose, and that the time taken to set up a feed reader was going to be justified. I chose Google Reader for two main reasons:

  1. It’s online. That means that whether I am at work, at home or back in NZ visiting my family I can read all the stuff I am interested in reading, without installing extra software all over the place.
  2. I already had a Google email account and a couple of Blogger blogs, and I have found most Google products relatively easy to use — in other words I was suckered by the Google brand.

Like all of life’s best decisions, once I had set my feed reader up with all the blogs I liked to read, and even some of the ones that I only liked some of the material from, I wondered why the heck I hadn’t gotten a feed reader years ago. There are things that don’t really work about Google reader, it’s a shame not to be able to drag-and-drop blogs into the reader, or feeds into folders, for example. The thing that annoyed me most about Google reader initially has long since been fixed — it now has a search box. Now if only I could set Google reader to be my default reader (instead of being asked every time whether I want my feed to go to iGoogle or Google reader) and get my news alerts sent to my reader instead of my email…

I’m actually pretty attached to Google Reader. I tried to set up a Bloglines account today so that I could compare the two, and while I enjoyed looking through the standard things to subscribe to (though I can’t see why on earth anyone would subscribe to an About.com page — must be some cross-promotion with Ask.com) but when I clicked subscribe there was a ‘database error’ or some such thing. Then when I went to read my feeds it had subscribed me to some bloglines spam, so I had to click around furiously and largely unfruitfully to get rid of it. Finally I subscribed to something I was interested in, and I was presented with an array of options I could not be bothered reading, and some silly subscription options. Suffice it to say there ended my experience with Bloglines, because although I ought to be willing to put myself through that to make a comprehensive usability report on this blog, I have other things to do with my time this week. Tony and Gary have said much the same thing.

To be fair, I don’t use many advanced features of Google Reader meaning I can’t even give a comprehensive overview of its usability. I neither share posts I find interesting nor subscribe to others’ shared feeds, mostly because I have little time to read the blogs I keep up with, let alone anyone else’s, and I have no desire to share my reading with the world less discriminately than emailing someone a useful link. For what I do, though, Google reader is perfect. I’ve sorted all my feeds into folders (because of course the time I have saved by reading blogs in a reader means that I can read more blogs), and I am finally keeping up not just with the blogs I read for work, but also with those I read for pleasure.

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