What’s a web feed?
A web feed is a data format that allows websites, blogs and podcasts to share content. The content distributor syndicates a web feed and users subscribe to them, to get the latest content updates.
Subscribing to the feeds of your favorite web content makes it easy to keep up to date with new articles, blog posts and podcast episodes.
Nearly every content-oriented website, blog and podcast has a feed. If you have a blog on the Blogger or WordPress platforms, your blog has a feed too!
What’s Google Reader and how do I get it?
Google Reader is a web based feed reader from Google. It lets you subscribe to the two most common feed types (Atom and RSS).
Like most Google services, Google Reader is free to use. Just go to http://www.google.com/reader and log in with your Google account (ie. Gmail login).
How to subscribe to feeds
Log in to Google Reader and you’ll be presented with a list of your feeds. If you are an existing user of Blogger than you will see your Blogger subscriptions have been automatically added. Otherwise your feed will be blank.
To add a feed for a particular website, copy the URL for the website from your browser’s address bar. Then, in Google Reader, press the red subscribe button, located just under the Google logo on the left.
Google will automatically find the feed link on the site and subscribe to it.
Alternatively, you can find the feed link yourself. This might be necessary if Google can’t automatically find it. Look for the universal feed icon.
Organizing your feeds
Once you’ve subscribed to a few feeds, you’ll notice your Reader is starting to get a bit messy. The latest updates from your favorite cooking website are showing up alongside your tech news.
Organize your feeds with folders. This lets you separate your feeds in any way you wish, allowing you to read them in groups. For example, you can create a “world news” folder to hold all your general world news feeds. When you click on the “world news” folder, only your world news feeds are displayed.
Add a new folder via the subscriptions tab of the Google Reader settings. View the Google Reader settings by clicking the settings button (gear icon) in the upper right, then choose “reader settings”. In the subscriptions tab, click the “add to folder” button next to a feed you want to organize, then choose an existing folder or create a new one. Folders show up on the left menu bar on your main feed page in the subscriptions section.
Saving posts to read later
If you subscribe to all your favorite websites, chances are your feed will contain hundreds, if not thousands, of new posts every day. This can get a little bewildering.
While you’re scrolling through the day’s latest news, you might want to save posts to read in detail at some later time.You can do this easily by starring them. Star a post by pressing the little star icon at the end of every post title. You can view your starred items from the “Starred items” section.
Alternatively, you can tag posts. This lets you categorize them while saving them. Tag a post by clicking the “Add tags” link at the end of every post. Write as many tags as you want, separated by commas, then press save. Your tags will be displayed in the “subscription” section. They act like folders for your saved posts.
Share posts with others
If you come across a post you want to share, you can share it on Google+ with the “Share” button at the bottom of every post or use the “Email” button to send the post to a friend. You can also share the original link to the post by right clicking the post title and copying the link address.
One of the most useful features of Google Reader is the ability to use keyboard shortcuts to complete common actions. For example, you can navigate to the next post in the feed by pressing ‘j’ or the space bar, and the previous feed by pressing ‘k’. Scrolling is so passé.
You can star the currently selected post (it’ll have a thin blue bar next to it) by pressing the ‘s’ key, tag it by pressing ‘t’ and email with ‘e’. Toggle full screen mode with the ‘f’ key and switch between the default expanded view by pressing ’1′ and a gmail-like list view by pressing ’2′.
Perhaps the single most important keyboard shortcut is pressing the question mark button while holding shift (Shift+?). This will display a handy guide to all the available keyboard shortcuts, including several we didn’t mention.
Got some hot tips on using web feeds? Use a feed reader other than Google Reader? Leave a comment and tell us all about it!