Improving your Google Reader Experience

Over the last few weeks, one thing that would keep me from actually reading blogs was the way I was reading them. For as long as I can remember, my Google Reader just read “100+” for the number of unread items (note that this was before they started counting to 1,000). To make matters worse, I’d add feeds left, right and center, and just dump them into the main list of feeds.

Sure, I did have some folders, such as one for feeds from the newspaper, one called “new-nablopomo”, and one called new-blogz. The trend would be that I’d read the items in the folder, and then get further down the list, only reading one or two of the blogs from down there.

I had reached, as Meg puts it, “feed bankruptcy,” something she’s had to redeclare recently. I was missing lots of items in my feeds, and I would get bogged down in the knowledge that there were all these feeds needing to be read.

However, there were a few problems with how I was reading feeds in my Google Reader. The first of which is that I just had way too many feeds in there – before I started paring it down, I was at 141 feeds, almost all of them not in any folders whatsoever. Among those feeds, I had five in particular – feeds from scam sites – which were giving me an average of over 200 new posts a day.

If you add in the fact that the Bumpzee feeds I subscribe to – Australian Blogs, No Nofollow, and US Blogs – provide nearly 300 new posts a day on their own, I had over 500 new posts a day. I also felt that I had to read every last post in a feed, which contributed to me feeling snowed in with the feeds.

What did I do?

There are three things that I did to improve my use of Google Reader – unsubscribing, using folders, and changing how I read.


As I had mentioned, before I started on this, I had 141 feeds, which was way too many. I had to unsubscribe from quite a few blogs. Most of the feeds that I unsubscribed from are ones that I hadn’t been reading, for a variety of reasons – either they didn’t update anymore, they’ve moved, or I’ve just lost touch with them. A great guide to some of the reasons why I unsubscribed from a lot of blogs can be found in Snoskred’s 14 reasons readers unsubscribe.

I’m now down to (after adding some new feeds over the last few weeks) 113 feeds. I’m also taking it easy on adding every single blog I come across that I like now. πŸ˜‰

Using folders

I also started to make use of the folder option. Up until I did this, there were only a few feeds separated from the rest – job site feeds, feeds from my newspaper, and newer blogs that I was reading. Now, having finally finished sorting the rest of my feeds into folders, I have 16 separate folders with anywhere from two feeds up to about 15 feeds in them.

I have folders for Aussie blogs that I read, blogs about Blogging, foodie blogs, life improvement blogs, sport blogs, photoblogs, and a couple of special folders.

The first special folder that I made is called “Frequently-updated” – that folder is for the feeds that have a lot of posts every day; in my case – Lifehacker, Neatorama, Mashable! and English Russia. I’ve also set aside a folder specifically for the bumpzee feeds so that they don’t get forgotten and that I don’t get bogged down by seeing one single folder with a lot of unread posts. The last special folder is called Zzz-iftime, which is for blogs that I read, but aren’t updated too often or are blogs I tend to leave go for a variety of reasons.

Changing my reading habits

The biggest thing that I’ve done to improve my use of Reader is by simply changing how I read through feeds. It used to be that I read every single post in what is known as “expanded” view – viewing every item in its entirety. This is a strategy that does not work at all when you have feeds that give you dozens of new posts a day.

The contents of my “frequently-updated” folder in list view.

I made the decision one day to start using list view to view the really busy folders – frequently-updated and bumpzee. That way, I can simply have a look at each item’s headline and, if it piques my interest, I just click on the headline to view that article. When I’m done reading that folder, I just hit Shift+a to mark the whole folder read, and that’s that.

Viewing an item in its native environment thanks to GPE.

One of the best tools that I have found that helps my reading is a script for Greasemonkey called GPE – Google Reader Preview Enhanced (I haven’t been able to get to the site, so you may have issues as well). What this script does is lets you open the actual entry right in Google Reader. This is great for the blogs where the owner has chosen to only allow a partial feed of their site; it’s also great if you want to comment on a blog post you like.

The biggest drawback that I’ve had with this script is that it keeps breaking down so that the keyboard shortcut doesn’t work; otherwise, I’d be able to use shift+v to open the post. In fact, the script was just updated so that it works again. Yay! Hmm…or not…there’s a new version on the way though, so hopefully it will stick (or I just need to restart my firefox… :))

The last secret…

There is one more secret that I’ve been using for quite a while now to help me be a more efficient reader in Reader. It’s a secret that is, for most of us, right under our fingertips most of the time.

Keyboard Shortcuts.

Google Reader keyboard shortcuts, visible anytime by typing in a question-mark.

I’m a convert to using keyboard shortcuts. It was one of those extra features in Gmail that I said, well, that’s nice, but not for me (and honestly I’m still lukewarm to Gmail keyboard shortcuts). However, with Reader, I find that it’s a lot more efficient to flip through a list of items by using N and P (if you don’t want to open them), or by using J and K (if you do want to open them).

Part of that comes from the fact that I am a big user of keyboard shortcuts in Thunderbird – most often it’s using N & P (for unread messages) or B & F (for messages that are read), or one of the number keys to assign an item a color.

Another really handy thing that I can do with the shortcuts is make tagging posts easier. Say, for example, I saw a recipe that I wanted to try. Normally, I’d have to star it and leave it unread in order for it to get my attention. Now, all I do is type in the following – L , F, U, enter, enter. This generates the keyword fud2try and places that recipe into my own virtual recipe box, for me to try when I can scrape together the ingredients. Total amount of time taken – about 3 seconds.

I know that keyboard shortcuts won’t be for all of you, but I suggest you take them for a spin before rejecting them out of hand. You might be surprised. πŸ™‚

Further Reading

Pearl has posted some great links about Google Reader with Google Reader hacks-repository.
Alex Ionut. Chitu shares some of the numbers behind Google Reader
In the companion post to this, Snoskred takes up the techy side of Reader and shows how it can make your life easier.

Previously in the Tuesday Think Tank
21st August: RSS
14 Reasons Readers Unsubscribe From Your Blog
Tuesday Think Tank: All About RSS

28th August: Blog Templates
Blog Design – Open Your Eyes.
Demystifying Blogger Template Editing

4th September: Nofollow
Spam, Spiders And Do Follow, Oh My!
Say No! to Nofollow

11th September: Site Meters
Do NOT Rely On Your Site Meter.
Track Your Visitors with Google Analytics

18th September: Technorati
Technorati – Sending Out An SOS
The Ups (and Downs) of Technorati

Over to you
Do you have any tips that for making the Google Reader experience more efficient? What do you think should be added to Reader that isn’t there already? I know that having the actual post time showing would be really handy. Your thoughts are always welcome.

Don’t forget that if there is something you’d like to have covered in a future Tuesday Think Tank, feel free to contact either myself or Snoskred via the email links on our sites, or leave a comment with your request.

Lastly, if you like what you’ve read, feel free to stumble it using the links below or by using the toolbar. πŸ™‚

3 thoughts on “Improving your Google Reader Experience

  1. Nice one, as usual! One question though: can you set a folder to be list while another is expanded? Not a big issue once I start using the keyboard shortcuts, but it might be nice to have that settable.

    I’m going to have to try the GPE – I have a folder of truncated feeds that I have to click through, and I only keep the best of that type. Plus commenting from the Reader would be nice at times.

  2. Jhianna – No, it’s an all-or-nothing option on whether you use list or expanded view.

    With GPE though, it seems that the keyboard shortcut still doesn’t work, even with the new version; though you’re absolutely right about making commenting on some blogs easier. πŸ™‚

    Thiru – I’ve always been one for keyboard shortcuts personally. I’ll even go for using the alt-key combinations for the menus usually.

    Thanks y’all! πŸ™‚

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