How to Turn iGoogle into a Content Reading and Twitter Posting Juggernaut

Until last night, I hadn’t looked at iGoogle, Google’s personalized homepage service in some time.  But I was interested in Steve Rubel’s Twitter setup, so I took a look.  It became instantly clear to me that I could use iGoogle, along with some other applications, to create a fun and efficient page to consume content and push it to various places, including Twitter.

So, with thanks to Steve for the idea, here’s how I turbo-charged my iGoogle page for content and for Twitter.

There are a couple of limitations to Steve’s initial setup that I wanted to fix.  First, ironically the weakest link in the iGoogle implementation is the Google Reader gadget.  If you have a lot of feeds, it is hard to access and manage them via a single Google Reader gadget.  There also needs to be an easier way to share items from the iGoogle page to your Google Reader shared items.  That is important to me, because I use those shared items to populate the “Interesting Reading Elsewhere” box on the right hand side of this page (or, if you’re reading this in a feed reader, the Newsome.Org pages).  Finally, I wanted to access more data, more ways, and without cluttering up my iGoogle page.

So here’s how I created what I think is the most efficient content reading and pushing (to Twitter, etc.) page reasonably possible with readily available and easy to use tools.  The resulting setup allows me to consume content centrally and quickly and to add lots of cool stuff to Twitter by dragging and dropping right into the TwitterGadget message box.

Feed Mashups

This part is, by far, the most time consuming part of this exercise, but it also resulted in one of the best features of my iGoogle page.  You can skip to the next section if you don’t want to create these feed mashups (but I am going to make it easy).

Largely because of my concerns with the Google Reader gadget, I wanted to create a list of headlines only – no photos, no summaries – for the feeds I read the most.  And I wanted to group them into genre-specific lists, like “Tech,” “Hardware,” “Music,” etc.  Fortunately, there is a free, powerful and largely underappreciated tool that will let me do this.

Yahoo Pipes.  Oh how I love Yahoo Pipes.

I decided to create a combined feed for several genres.  I used Tech Blogs (broken into 3 separate feeds, because there are a lot of them), iPhone, Music, Entertainment, Life, Blogs (broken into 2 separate feeds), Tech, and Hardware.  You can choose your own.  All you have to do is create one Yahoo Pipe and then clone it and replace the source RSS feeds.

Let’s take a look at my Tech Blogs 1 group.  Here are the steps to create this Pipe.

1. Select Fetch Feed from Sources menu, and add the feeds you want.  I try to keep each pipe at around 10-12 feeds, otherwise, the feeds can become unwieldy.
2. Select Sort from the Operators menu and select Sort by “item.pubDate” and in “descending” order.
3. Select Loop from the Operators menu and select emit “all” results.
4. Select Item Builder from the Sources menu and place it in the box on top of the Loop module (here’s a picture):


5. Complete the options in the Item Builder module as shown above.
6. Connect the items above together by dragging between connection points and connect output of the Loop module above to the Pipe Output module.

This will generate a combined feed of the sources you added in step 1, with links and headlines only.


Note the “Get as RSS” button above.  You can right click on that button and copy the combined RSS feed for use in iGoogle.  Once you have one pipe working, all you have to do is clone that Pipe, rename it and replace the source RSS feeds.

Configuring iGoogle

Now, back to iGoogle.  The first problem I had to address was to avoid screen clutter.  iGoogle makes it easy to do this, by allowing you to have multiple pages.  Click the down arrow in the left column beside the page you’re on and select “Add a tab.”  The new page will be added to the left hand column.  You can rename it, and (and this is a big timesaver) you can drag gadgets from one page to another.  Thus, if you want to have a gadget on three pages, you can add it three times (by refreshing the gadget page and adding it again) to one page and then drag the extra copies to their desired location.

At the moment, I have three pages on iGoogle: Google Reader, Headlines (for the feeds I created above with Yahoo Pipes) and Google News.  Let’s take a look.

First, there are two gadgets you’ll want on every page.  TwitterGadget and Google Mini Search.  Add them as described above.

My first page is for reading and pushing content from Google Reader.  Yes, the Google Reader gadget can be unwieldy, but we can vastly improve it with one simple trick: you have have multiple instances of the Google Reader gadget on any page.  I have a 24″ monitor, so I used the three column layout for this page (only) and added Google Mini Search and TwitterGadget to the middle, and eight Google Reader gadgets on the sides.  In the first one, I show All Items and hide items I have already read.  This lets me quickly scan for fresh content.  The other seven show other of my Google Reader folders (the display selection stays in place when you close iGoogle).  I show items I’ve already read in the other seven boxes, since I may have seen something in the native Google Reader application that I want to push to Twitter.  Here’s what it looks like (click on the picture for a larger view).

A Cornucopia of Tweeting goodness.

My second page is for the headlines I created above with Yahoo Pipes.  If I’m in a hurry, I want the ability to scan lots of headlines very quickly.  A great gadget for serving those headlines is Feed Tabs Reader.  I added each one of the genre-based combined feeds that I made with Yahoo Pipes to this gadget.  I love the efficient tabs-based navigation.  This allows me to quickly scan headlines and push a little content, even when I don’t have time to fully consume my feeds.  Note that on this page, I use the two column layout to make TwitterGadget bigger.

Here’s what this page looks like.

You can quickly tab through the various topics.

My third page is dedicated to Google News.  In addition to TwitterGadget and Google Mini Search, this page has the Google News gadget.  Along with selectable regular sections (news, sports, etc.) the Google News Gadget makes it beautifully simple to create custom news sections.  Click the + button at the top right of the gadget and enter the applicable topic in the blank.  So far I have custom sections for “Social Networks,” “Blogging,” and “Digital Music.”  Again, I love the efficient tabs-based navigation.  Again, on this page, I use the two column layout to make TwitterGadget bigger

Here’s what this page looks like.

The Google News gadget is extremely flexible.

The Shared Items Problem

Inexplicably, the Google Reader gadget does not allow you to add items to your shared items list with a single click (you can add a star with one click).  So we need a work-around.  The best I have found so far is to install the Google Reader bookmarklet.  You can add to your shared items by clicking on the bookmarklet, though this requires that you have the actual article or post open.  It’s not ideal, but it works.  Another option I tried and discarded is to have the mobile version of Google Reader open in the browser’s sidebar.  You can one-click items to your shared items that way, but even a big monitor starts to get crowded.

Putting it All Together, via TwitterGadget

Once you have everything in place, this setup rocks.  Completely.  And largely thanks to TwitterGadget.

You can drag and drop items from any of these sources into TwitterGadget.  Once the link is in the TwitterGadget message box, simply highlight the link, click “Control+Y” and the link is shortened.  Following, unfollowing and retweeting are also easier- just hold the cursor over the user’s picture.  Again, there’s simple, tab-based navigation for replies, DMs, favorites and even the public timeline (“Everyone”).

The beauty of this setup is that it is both infinite and flexible.  You can tailor it to your preferences.

I hope this helps.  Enjoy!