I reviewed Google reader sometime ago, after its major update, and wasn’t impressed. I had been looking for an online feed reader so I could make use of my time away from my home computer by catching up on the blogs that I read. At the time, I had been using the built-in feed reader of Thunderbird, my email program.

However, after continual frustration with being stuck somewhere, waiting on someone or something, and wishing I could use the twenty minutes to catch up on my blog reading, I finally decided to give Google Reader a more comprehensive try. I’ve been using it for the past two months as my only feed reader.

As you might recall, my most hated feature was not being able to save certain posts, like emails, the way I used to in Thunderbird. Google allows you to star the posts, and I’m hoping it will soon allow you to look at starred posts per feed. The only option is to view them sorted by date saved (starred) and for some strange reason, Google uses the date you starred the post, rather than the original date of the post. I’d like to change that. Even though Google imported my feed collection with no problem, I had to initially go and manually star a bunch of items that I had previously saved in Thunderbird, so I would have them all in one place. That took some time, which I felt was unnecessary. However, in Google’s defense, the OPML standard for importing and exporting feeds (which is pretty new) doesn’t include any mechanism for communicating saved or starred posts. So, Google would have had to try and create this trick by themselves, which would only gain them a little benefit and would probably be outdated if OPML is ever updated to include this feature.

However, I’ve learned that if I really like a post to not only star it, but save it as a bookmark in del.icio.us. Of course, if I had the discipline, I could tag my starred posts so I could find them more easily. But tagging in del.icio.us is trouble enough, and with Google having a little negative press lately, I’m not sure I want its servers to be my only respite. I’ve had Yahoo email for over 10 years and have never lost an email yet, so keeping the really good posts on del.ici.ous (now owned by Yahoo) seems like a reasonable alternative.

Usually, I just use the starring feature to indicate an “actionable” post - something that I read that I want to do or copy later. Blogs are great for giving you ideas, but if you don’t actually do any of them, then you are wasting your time to read them. By starring the really good ideas, I remember to go back and actually do what the post says to do. Needless to say, most of those are computer or website related posts, but there are a few for personal productivity. I also star posts that I want to later comment on, either at the blog itself, or on my blog here. Unlike a lot of people, I don’t usually comment on a hot topic right away. I like to let it settle. Usually, I’ll lose interest or the topic will work itself out on the net. But if it is still ticking away after a few weeks or a few months, sometimes I’ll come in like a firestorm and write a post explaining why everyone is wrong. Ha ha.

So, after getting over the starring feature, my next hassle was to learn to mark each post as read. With Google Reader, I have to manually check a rather small box to do this. With Thunderbird, each post was automatically marked as read as I read/opened it, just like with email. Google does have an automatic way to do this that some people love. I don’t though. As you scroll up, it marks each post as read for you. Unfortunately, I get interrupted a lot, my wonderful Microsoft optical mouse sometimes “jumps” (I’ll be getting a laser mouse soon that hopefully will fix that), or the post is rather long. On long posts, like Steve Pavlina is apt to write, Google Reader marks it read just as the title scrolls past the top of my browser. And yet, maybe I’ve only read the first of ten paragraphs. It isn’t debilitating, but it is annoying, so I turned that feature off - which leaves me stuck manually marking each post as read. After a while, I got used to it, so I would give this features a B.

I do like the fact that Google Reader can be set to only show blogs that have been updated or have new posts in them. As you can see from the screenshots below, I have a lot of feeds, but not as many as some people, and I’m always adding more. I also subscribe to a lot of blogs that are software or website specific, such as the PayPal Developer blog and the WordPress Development blog. These are only updated when something specific to those platforms needs to be announced. Thus, it would be distracting to see these blogs listed every time I opened Reader.

Here you can see the same post open, but the left margin only shows the feeds that currently have unread posts in them. It is a lot less distracting and far more informative. This is one area where Google Reader beats Thunderbird (and a few other feed readers).

So, far I’ve had a very good experience with Google Reader. The only other thing I don’t care for too much is when I want to email a particular post to a friend. I haven’t been able to try this out since I always get a database error that says “Your client has issued a malformed or illegal request”. I haven’t tried this in other browsers other than FireFox, so this may just be a temporary glitch. Thus, I have to open the post in a browser window, copy the URL, paste it in an email - the old-fashioned way for now. Since my Google Reader account is attached to my gMail account, I’m assuming this would all done automatically if it was working right - which it isn’t for me, for now.

Google Reader does allow you to “share” posts. This is just a way of allowing you to mark posts for sharing which Google nicely publishes to a public webpage. See mine here, for example. You can also set up the shared items feed to post clips (via RSS) to a blog. I may do this here if I think it would be beneficial to anyone. It is a nice feature, nonetheless, and if they can get the email feature working, I’ll be even happier.

For now, Google Reader is my feed reader of choice. It’s free and if you want to start following blogs, this is a very easy, unobtrusive way to do so. Find out more about Google reader here.

Technorati Tags: blogging - Google Reader - Thunderbird - feed readers

Posted in: Blogging