Has Google Reader Entered the Fast Lane?

And how you can benefit from it.

I noticed earlier today that, in a great improvement from days (and days) gone by, posts were showing up a lot more often in my Google Reader.  I marked it up to some hiccup in the pipeline.

Then I saw a post by Alex Wilhelm over at the Next Web speculating, with at least something approximating confirmation, that Google has widened the pipe, perhaps via PubSubHubBub.

Life in the Fast(er) Lane

If this is true, or even close to true, it is great, awesome news.  For one thing, I use Google Reader all the time, and my one complaint has been that it sometimes seems to be taking a leisurely drive, when I want an on-ramp to the information superhighway.

(numerous new items have populated my Google Reader in the time it took me to type that bad metaphor)

Enabling Your Blog

If you want to make your blog PubSubHubBub-ready, there are two ways to do that.

If you use Feedburner, enable PingShot:


If you use WordPress, grab a plugin.

Google Reader is truly my number one tool where online content is concerned.  I’m happy it has been speed-enhanced, however it was done.  And I’m happy Google is still improving it.  It would be a shame if Google lost focus on Google Reader.

I still miss Google Notebook.  But that’s a story for another day.  Right now, I’ve got a ton of new posts to read.  And more every minute.

Google Reader: Putting Scoble in Time Out


I like Robert Scoble.  I really do.  But, like my 8-year old, if I don’t watch him like a hawk he gets distracted and starts doing all kinds of crazy shit.  Like pooping all over Google Reader, which is really a stand-in for RSS readers in general.  I know he doesn’t really mean it.  It’s like the time my 8-year old announced that she was giving up Skittles.  It was a radical thought.  There was logic to it.  Shoot, it made me proud.

But it wasn’t real.

Two days later she was back in the grip of her Skittles addiction, insisting that no right-thinking person would choose a granola bar when those colorful, chewy, irresistible sugar pills were just sitting there on the shelf.  Our battle over her junk food habit rages on, but I know in my heart that all the wishful thinking in the world won’t make a granola bar taste like a Skittle.

So let’s put Robert in virtual time out and see if we can get him to behave.  One step at a time.

He says Google Reader is slow.  I think that’s more of a problem with the front end platform that pushes the RSS feeds (e.g., FeedBurner), but I see his point.  But as I have said over and over, Skittles are bad for you.  Uh, I mean, faster is not always better.  I simply don’t need to read about some dude’s latest Farm Game achievement or Mafia Wars battle in real time.  And the flexibility of Google Reader (folders, the ability to rename feeds, archive feeds, search feeds, etc.) outweighs any marginal speed benefit you might get from the other sources (more on those below).

Of course, there’s a bigger flaw in that argument.  Most Twitter posts are links to other content that got served by. . . RSS feeds or some other platform.  The live on the scene Twitterer is the vast exception and not the rule.  So even if Twitter is instantaneous, most of the information put on Twitter is not.

And while I’m debunking the speed canard, let’s be honest.  When we thought that kid was in the balloon flying all over Colorado, we turned on CNN, not Google Reader and certainly not Twitter.  For live important news, the internet just ain’t the place, and the difference between 5 minutes later and 15 minutes later just isn’t that big of a deal.

image He says Google Reader’s UI is confusing.  I agree that all that sharing stuff is unnecessary screen clutter.  All we need to get our data out of Google Reader are the newish “Send to” buttons.  But Google has gotten caught up in the sharing hysteria like everybody else.  When all this sharing nonsense blows over, the internet will be a much more useful and fun place.  But come on man, all you have to do is ignore all that crap, just like I do.  And if you think Google Reader is confusing, then you must think Facebook is a big, non-intuitive mountain of Rubik’s Cubes.

He doesn’t like seeing all those unread items.  I have a folder of traditional news feeds (CNN, USA Today, etc.) that fills up faster than a cheetah can run.  You simply mark the entire folder as “read,” with one click.  It’s not hard.  Now trying to actually follow news topics on Twitter, that’s hard (more on that below).

Speaking of Twitter, does anyone really go to Twitter to consume content?  Be honest.  All I see are over there are people pushing unilateral content, like a flea market-cum-mailing list.  And social?  There’s more interaction on top of Mount Everest than there is on Twitter.  Seriously, I get the sense that the Twitter hysteria among the general public is fading.  If I owned Twitter, I’d sell it.  Now, while there are still a lot of greater fools thrashing around with someone else’s money to spend.

He says the social network features suck.  I would completely agree with this if it was an absolute statement, and not limited to Google Reader.  They probably do suck in Google Reader, which is one of it’s strongest points.  I don’t follow (or whatever the right word is) anyone via Google Reader.  I just find my content there, and push it from there to my blog, Facebook page, etc.  Let’s be honest, the social networks aren’t all that social, so why does a feed reader have to be social?

About this interaction business.  If you want to interact online with real people, the fact is that there is only one place to do it- Facebook.  The infrastructure is there.  The developers are there.  And most importantly, the non-nerds are there.  The battle for the mind of the so-called social networker is over, and everyone but Facebook lost.  Hell, I did everything I could to stay off of Facebook and I failed.  Lots of my real world friends are there, and none of them are on any of these lesser services.

He says he sees most news faster on Twitter than in Google Reader.  Uh, OK.  That’s like saying I got to California faster on a horse than when I walked.  The greatest myth in the history of the internet is that Twitter is the place to get news.  First of all, you have to separate those who actually know the news and have the desire and ability to accurately describe it from the spammers and nut-jobs.  Then you have to wade through the chaos and scrolling pages to find it.  At least on the CNN and Google News pages, there is some semblance of an organizational structure that the nut-jobs must adhere to.

He says headline scanning is easier on Twitter.  This is simply wrong.  Robert, I challenge you to walk me through this and show me how it is easier on Twitter.  If I’m wrong, I’ll eat my pocket protector.  Hell, I’ll go one step further- it’s impossible to scan headlines on Twitter.  Because there are none.

He says the iPhone apps are better for Twitter.  I agree with that.  Of course they are better, because Twitter has enjoyed a lot of momentum.  Like Hanson did at one point, and the Jonas Brothers do now.  Pretty soon all the kids will gravitate to the next big thing and Twitter will be relegated to the opening act.  Like Isaac, Taylor and Zac.

The only question is who will get rich before that happens.

What do use to get your online content?  And why?

Improving the Google Reader Send to Feature

I still think Google could do a lot better than it has done so far with the new “Send to” feature.  And I sure hope Google isn’t going to get all sharing and social network obsessed and turn Google Reader into some chaotic FriendFeed wannabe.  But I will admit that half a feature is better than none at all, and I have been experimenting with the “Send to” feature.

To me, of course, experiment means use, customize and improve.

The first thing I wanted to do was add my typical “Interesting:” to the beginning of items I send to Twitter.  Here’s how to hack up a custom “Send to Twitter” link.


All you have to do is change the word “Interesting:” to whatever you want to appear at the beginning of your Twitter post.  Easy as pie.  After setting this up, you may want to uncheck the default Twitter “Send to” option in the provided list.


I also hacked my “Send to Facebook” link to add a shortened link,


but I haven’t figured out a way to pre-populate the “What’s on your mind?” box yet.


If there’s a way to do that, I can’t figure it out.  Another example of Facebook making it hard to control what’s inside those walls.  The end result, however, is simply that I will continue to create little or no content from within Facebook.  I’ll just send my content there via an alternate path, for consumption by those who live in Facebook’s Pelbarigan-like city state.

Finally, I hacked the Delicious “Send to” link to include a Note “For future blog post.”  I would have greatly preferred to automatically add a Tag “FNOBP,” but there doesn’t seem to be a way to populate a tag via a URL.  Which is but one of a long list of reasons I almost never use Delicious.  If I could auto-populate a Tag, Delicious might find its way back into my toolbox, so I could store article ideas there and save my “Starred” Google Reader items for other things.

Sooo, the way I got around Delicious’s crappiness was to create a dedicated Gmail sub-email address, and write an “Email to” link to that address.


Then I set up a Filter in Gmail that identifies these emails, archives them and adds a “For Blog Post” label.


All in all, not a bad afternoon’s work.

A Halfway Good Idea

I noticed tonight that Google Reader has added a new sharing function, which lets you send items you share to various social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.  You can even create custom “send to” links.


This is a good idea, and would be really helpful- if they had implemented it right.  Which, unfortunately, they didn’t.

As implemented, you are presented with a new link at the bottom of each item.


When you click that link, you are directed to the destination application, where you can then add the desired item to your social network content.

This is about infinity times more complicated than it should be.  Google Reader should give users the option to fill in your social network name and password on the Google Reader Settings page and then automatically add either (at the user’s election):

1. selected items, on a one-click basis (i.e., without having to visit the destination application); or

2. every item you share,

to that social network.

I would very quickly implement the second option, thereby giving me a faster, more flexible way to push my shared items.  It would allow me to avoid the link-dump problem with Twitterfeed.  It would just be a whole lot better.

This was a good idea, halfway done.

Tech for Grownups: Why You Need Google Reader


As hard as it may be to believe for those of us who live in RSS, both from a content production and content viewing perspective, RSS and the associated feed readers remain vastly under-utilized by most adults.  Over the past weeks I asked many adults if they use RSS or a feed reader to manage their online reading.  Only one person used a feed reader.  Very few even knew what feed reader are.  In fact, I showed one reasonably tech-savvy friend how to use Google Reader.  He told me a day or two later that Google Reader had completely changed the way he approached the internet.  He loved it.

Meanwhile, many of my adult friends continue to consume the internet inefficiently and ineffectively by bouncing around from one website to another, in search of content that could so easily be centralized via Google Reader.  Yes, there are other feed readers, but they are more complicated and, frankly, not as good as Google Reader.

Wikipedia defines a feed reader as follows: “A feed aggregator, also known as a feed reader, news reader or simply aggregator, is client software or a Web application which aggregates syndicated web content such as news headlines, blogs, podcasts, and vlogs in a single location for easy viewing.”  In other words, you can take all that content that you run all over the place trying to find and read, and you can put it in one centralized place.  It puts you, not the various website developers and their advertisers, in charge of how you consume online information.  For those (and you know who you are) who continue to claim that the internet is a dangerous and scary place- Google Reader is perfect for you.  You get the content you’re after right from Google.  And while Google is certainly trying to corner the market on data storage and online advertising, it’s certainly not going to rob you or give you a computer virus.  As an aside, most of the people I know who are scared of the internet already have computer viruses because they are too afraid to find and update an anti-virus program, yet not afraid to open love emails and other obviously bogus missives from people they don’t know.

RSS feeds are not just for blogs.  Just about every newspaper, online news source and other content provider has RSS feeds.  Generally, they have many, broken down in a news, weather, sports, etc. manner.  Here is a list of Yahoo’s feeds.  Here are CNN’s.  And here are the feeds for the New York Times.  If you find all that stuff too boring, here’s mine.

There is one slight drawback to feeds.  Lots of people use full feeds, which means that the entire story appears within the feed reader.  Many news sources, however, are psychologically bound to the dying advertising model that traditionally paid their bills.  So some of them use partial feeds, which show only a headline and sometimes a summary within the feed reader.  You have to click through to the provider’s story (e.g., to its website) to read the whole thing.  This is a pain in the ass, but even so, feed readers are still the best way to organize and access your online content.  As another aside, big media can probably get away with partial feeds for a few more years, but anyone else who uses partial feeds is begging not to be read.  If Mashable and TechCrunch can make full feeds available, then so can you.  And if you don’t, many others with the same or better content will.  As you can tell, I really don’t like partial feeds.

Back to Google Reader and why you need it.

Here’s a video by the folks who developed Google Reader explaining all the great things Google Reader will do for you (link for feeds).

So what are you waiting for?  Go give it a whirl.  It will change your (online) life.

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Google Reader as a Security Device


So this dude grabs a photo of Sooty, the amazing guinea pig, right off my Err Bear Music page, uses my bandwidth to display it on his page, with no attribution (and no link to my song about said guinea pig from whence the photo came) and, on top of all of that, he gets link love from me in my Recent Inbound Links box (in the right column).

You have to love the internet.

So not only is Google Reader now serving me my feeds and you my inbound links and recent comment boxes, it’s also serving as my bandwidth watchdog.

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Google Reader: Waiving the White Flag

OK, let me go ahead and get this out of the way.  I have capitulated to the inevitability of Google Reader.


I’ve written quite a bit about the frustrations I’ve experienced with Bloglines- the two most frequent ones being the need to reload at least once before I can successfully click on a post and the fact that it never seems to finish loading in Firefox.  I had looked into Google Reader before, but found its interface lacking.  But continuing difficulties with Bloglines kept driving me back to Google Reader to take another look.

The migration started slowly.  I initially used Google Reader exclusively to read my news feeds (newspapers, Google news, the Houston Chronicle, etc.).  Over a few weeks, I started to feel more comfortable with the interface.  A few days ago, I made the switch completely, paring my feeds back, dividing them into categories and putting them into Google Reader folders.  At the moment I have Music, News, Personal (the comment feed here, my Flickr feed, my Yahoo Pipes feed, etc.), Entertainment, Local News, Sports and Tech.

gr I have to admit, it’s growing on me.  There are two must-have features that are strangely missing, but on the whole I am coming around.  Here are my major likes and dislikes.


1) I like how fast and responsive it seems, especially when compared to my recent Bloglines experience.  It’s also a treat to look up and see that the little circle in my Firefox tab is not spinning.  That’s something I haven’t experienced in a long time at Bloglines.

2) I like the implementation of the folders and the ease with which you can manage your feeds, with two glaring exceptions (see below).

3) I like the ease with which you can change the view from expanded to list, and from all to new.

4) I like the ease with which you can click posts in list view, expand them, and then collapse them.


1) I don’t like, need or want all of the sharing stuff in the first list at the top of the left hand side.  All of this takes up a lot of real estate that I’d rather use for other stuff.  I’m probably in the minority on this, since I haven’t bought into the social network craze.

2) I really, really don’t like the fact that I can’t sort my feeds alphabetically within a folder.  This would take about 30 seconds to code, yet for some indefensible reason it’s not there.  This is almost a deal stopper for me.

3) I really, really wish there was a setting to mark all posts as read when you leave a feed in list view.  I find that I am using list view almost exclusively and it is a pain in the butt to have to remember to click the mark all as read button when I’m done.  This feature exists for the expanded view.

Google Reader feels a little like a work in progress and there are a lot of obvious improvements that could and should be implemented.  But it’s starting to feel like my home base for news and feed reading.

All in all, I’m reasonably happy with Google Reader.

I can’t believe I just typed that.

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Tech Tips for Tweeners: News, Newsgroups and Newsreaders


One of the primary purposes of Newsome.Org is to introduce and explain computer-related programs and features to other in-betweeners like me- people who are the parents of the youngsters to whom computers and the internet are as integral as the telephone and the children of our parents who have no intention of ever embracing computers.

People in this 35-60 group are in an odd situation. Most have, perhaps begrudgingly, accepted computers as a tool to help them work- at least as far as emails and light word processing goes. But to many, anything beyond that is unfamiliar and confusing. Because I am the neighborhood computer geek, I get a lot of questions about technology. Over the years, two things have become clear. One, many in-betweeners view computers as a chore themselves as opposed to a method to make chores easier. Two, with a little work these same people can and will learn how to make computers work for them. There is always an initial hesitation (“I don’t understand all of that,” “If I give a web site my personal information, my identity will be stolen immediately, etc.”), but these folks have been around technology long enough to pick up more than they think via osmosis and to become comfortable around technology. That’s a valuable head start that will significantly lower the learning curve.

So let’s talk about one way we can make computers work for us. Anyone reading this knows how to send email, so we’ll skip that. Let’s talk about the second most commonly used benefit of computers and the internet: information gathering.

Any information gathering process starts with Google‘s web search. But there are other ways to get even more specific information. Let’s talk about newsgroups.

First, let’s address some terms, that may sound alike, but are not the same thing:

Newsgroups. A newsgroup (focus on the group half, not the news half) is a central list of messages, organized by topic, posted by many users at different locations. Stated another way, newsgroups are discussion groups where people discuss, teach, inquire about, etc. a topic of presumed common interest. For example, there are newsgroups about fishing, hunting, quilting- just about everything. A newsgroup looks similar to the list of email in your inbox, the difference being that the messages are composed by a large group of people from all over the world. From a technical perspective newsgroups are different from web-based message boards, like Songwriting.Org, but from an end user and experience perspective, they are similar. There are two ways to read newsgroups: via a newsgroup reader, such as Outlook Express (which is almost certainly already installed on your computer) or via the web through everyone’s favorite web site, Google. Newsgroup readers have to be configured, which, while not terribly hard to do, is more than a lot of people want to do (recall my mantra- if you want people to use technology, make technology easy to use). Reading newsgroups via Google is much easier. You can find groups you’re interested in via the search box, click on the link to read the messages and “subscribe” or bookmark the group by clicking on the link at the top of the list of messages. Here is a screenshot showing what a typical newsgroup looks like in Outlook Express:


and here is what one looks like via Google.

So why in the world would anyone want to read newsgroups? Simple, to get answers to questions. When I am trying to fix a computer problem, a broken toilet or almost any other problem, I start by searching the newsgroups, via Google. Very few problems haven’t already been solved by someone else and most of those solutions are readily accessible via newsgroups. Most of the hard computer or software problems I have encountered were solved via suggestions I read on newsgroups. And most of the time, you don’t even have to post a question to get the answer. Just search for the problem and you’ll generally find that someone else has already asked it and received an answer.

News Readers and RSS. For some strange reason, the programs that read RSS, which is a relatively new method of distribtuing web site content (like the content on this page) are confusingly called news readers (focus on the readers half, not the news half). They are also called RSS readers, feed readers and feed aggregators. The content displayed by these programs is repackaged web site content, not newsgroups. It’s confusing, but think of it as newsgroups (Google just calls them groups) where a group of people post messages and news readers that allow you to read news (and other content) posted by people like me on their web sites.

News: Don’t get traditional news sites, such as CNN or Google News confused with the stuff we talked about above. Those are traditional news sites, with traditional news. You can usually read that content through a newsreader (look for the RSS link), but that’s the only connection between those sites and newsgroups and newsreaders.

So what do I use for all this? There are many good programs. Here’s what I use:

Reading Newsgroups: Outlook Express, more than likely the program you use to send email from home. I use Outlook (a more robust program with a similar name) for email, but I use Outlook Express to read newsgroups.

Searching Newsgroups: Google. There is no substitute. If I find a group I like, I’ll subscribe to it via Outlook Express, but as mentioned above, you can easily read and post directly from Google.

Newsreader: Onfolio, which has many great features. There are also web based newsreaders. Of the ones on that list, I have tried and liked Newsgator and Bloglines. Both are free.

Once you go to the effort to set these programs up, they make it easy to find, collect and store information. It’s a little learning time now that is repaid with interest when you need information fast.

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