To subscribe or not to subscribe–good question. Here’s what to do.

I follow forty-nine blogs. Forty-nine! I was mind-boggled when I counted them up. I read blogs about writing and the publishing industry. I read blogs by authors I love and friends in the writing community. For fun, I follow The Bloggess*. (Every slightly insane person should read The Bloggess.) And, to show you just how geeky I am, I follow Wil Wheaton*.

Yes, Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Hey, in some circles, he’s hotter than Neil Gaiman! Speaking of whom, I follow Neil Himself, too.

Imagine if I got e-mail notifications for all those blogs. I’d go truly insane. Fortunately, I found a way to follow loads of blogs without too much annoyance. I use an RSS feedreader.

I recently discovered that some of my best blogging buddies had no idea what a feed reader is. Some of them follow more blogs than I do. Fearing for their sanity, I wrote up some quick instructions to help them out. Then I got to thinking: If these smart, with-it people don’t know about feedreaders, then surely a lot of other folks don’t know about them either. This post is for those people, the ones who are plagued by e-mail notifications (or avoid subscribing altogether so they won’t be nagged by e-mail).

(Those of you who already use a feedreader can quit reading now. Or you can read on and add useful tips in the comments section.)

Some of you might be asking, “What the heck are you talking about?”  Or, more specifically, “What is a feedreader?”  I’ll start with a simple definition of “RSS” from Wikipedia. 

RSS (originally RDF Site Summary, often dubbed Really Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format.

(You may come across other types of feeds, such as ATOM, but I don’t know anything about them.)

An RSS feedreader gathers “frequently updated works” of your choosing into one place. This includes news feeds and blogs. The feedreader allows me the ability to choose when I want to read without having to deal with e-mails. Every morning at breakfast, when other people might be opening up a newspaper, I open my feedreader and check out the more interesting sounding posts while I munch on my shredded wheat. When other folks are done reading, they fold their newspaper and toss it in the recycling heap. I close up my reader and put it out of my mind.

There are several feedreaders to choose from. I use Google Reader, so that’s what I’ll describe here. I assume other feed readers work in a similar fashion.

  1. You need a Google account. (I believe Yahoo also has a reader, but I can’t help you with that.)
  2. Go to your Google home page. (Whether you know it or not, you have a Google home page if you use Gmail.) Find the toolbar across the top of the Google home page that includes links to Google plus (e.g. “+Marie”), Gmail, YouTube, Play, Maps, etc. The rightmost link is a dropdown menu “More.”
  3. Click on “More” and then choose “Reader” from the dropdown menu. You will be taken to your Google reader page. (Yes, you have one, even if you didn’t ask for it.) You can now subscribe to the RSS feeds of the blogs and newsfeeds you follow and they will be added to the reader.
  4. To subscribe to a blog via RSS feed, go to the desired blog site and look for a little orange square with white curves in it, like the one to the right.  (There are variations on this icon and sometimes it’s not orange.) Click on this icon.
    1. You will likely be given options for which feedreader you want to add the blog to. Choose Google (if that’s what you’re using).
    2. You might then have a choice between adding the blog to your Google home page or adding it to your reader. Unless it’s your very favorite, can’t-miss blog, you should add it to your reader.
    3. You will be re-directed to your reader. (If you are asked to log in, use your Gmail password.) Excerpts from the most recent posts for the site you’re adding will be listed. Above those excerpts, you’ll need to click on a subscribe button. You are now subscribed to the blog. (You can also subscribe to a blog directly within Google Reader by clicking on “subscribe” at the top left of Google Reader and pasting the site’s url into the blank. Whatever’s easier for you.)
    4. Repeat with each blog you wish to follow.
    5. Check your feedreader regularly, because you will not get e-mail notifications when something new is posted.

Useful Tips

  • At the top of the reader are some dropdown menus. “Mark all as read” can be used to mark all posts from a given site or folder as “read” so that they won’t show up anymore. When I subscribe to a new blog, I often mark everything as read for that blog so I will only be bothered with new posts.
  • I like to categorize the blogs I follow into folders. My folders include “writing peeps,” “writing information,” and “entertainment.” To create a folder, go to left side of the reader. If you hover the prompt over “subscriptions,” you can click on the down arrow to get a dropdown menu. At the bottom of the dropdown menu is “manage subscriptions.” Click on that and you will get a listing of all of your subscriptions. To the right of each subscription, there is an icon “change folders.” If you click on this, you can choose an existing folder or create a new folder.
  • Moving back to the top of the reader, the dropdown menu “feed settings” is where you’ll find the “unsubscribe” option. You can also add a blog to a folder from this menu.

Google reader has many options that I have not explored, but the above should get you started.

If you use an ipad or iphone, then I suggest getting the FeeddlerPro app. (Yes, there are two d’s in “FeedlerPro,” and don’t confuse it with Feedly, which strikes me as a useless thing.) I prefer using Feeddler on my iPad to using Google Reader on my laptop. It’s got better features. For example, Feeddler provides a list all the titles for the unread posts for a subscription. You can decide not to read posts based on their titles and toggle them as “read” without having to open the post. You can also read posts out of order, which is awkward with Google Reader. You might be able to find similar apps for other tablets.

Tips for Google Chrome Users

If you use the Google Chrome web browser, check out their extension for subscribing to RSS feeds. The extension will put the little orange Google Reader icon on the right side of your URL/Search window. All you have to do is click on icon to subscribe. This is often easier than searching the person’s site for where they hid the RSS subscribe button. If they have one at all.

To get the extension, go to the top of the Chrome browser and click on “Chrome.” Choose preferences and then enable “RSS subscription extension (by Google).” (Note: too many extensions will slow your browser down, so don’t go nutty and start enabling everything in sight.)

Important note: When you read a post in a reader, you are not actually at the person’s website. You will not be able to see all pictures, video, or nifty formatting. Sometimes this is okay, but sometimes you want to see the full post. Just click on the post’s title and you will be taken to the actual blog site. Or if you click on “comment” at the bottom, it should take you out the actual blog site.

Another important note: The internet gurus are constantly tweaking readers, browsers, and so forth, so my instructions may not work 100% for you. However, they should at least give you an idea of what to look for.

And that’s it. You now have no more excuses for not subscribing to lots of blogs, including Pen in Hand. Or maybe this one.

*Rated PG-13 for occasional naughty language and (re The Bloggess) occasional crudeness.

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About Marie Loughin

I love reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. My current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where I get to play god with characters from myth and legend. My Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, is available at Kindle Books and other e-book retailers. You can find me at my blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
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6 Responses to To subscribe or not to subscribe–good question. Here’s what to do.

  1. Thanks, Marie! I love your lead…and pg13 warning!

  2. You’re welcome. And The Bloggess can be a bit of a shock if you’re unprepared 🙂

  3. Pingback: 4 Fast Feed Readers that Handles Lots of Feeds without Slowing Down | Stephan Miller

  4. Silvernfire says:

    RSS: one of the niftiest developments that never seems to have become generally known. Here you are having to explain what it is and how to use it, and it’s how many years old? (Good explanation: it’s just sad that it’s still needed.)

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