July 16, 2009

Blog Tips: Using a Feed Reader Effectively

FeedDemonImage via Wikipedia
For those of us who blog primarily in one niche or another, it is vital that we remain aware of what others in our niche are doing. We also want to be able to efficiently track relevant news without getting bogged down in irrelevant information. This blogging tip focuses on the RSS side of things and assumes that you are using a full featured RSS reader.

First things first, there are a number of ways to read RSS feeds, ranging from web-based clients (e.g., Google Reader, Bloglines, etc.) to stand-alone applications. As noted above, this tip assumes that you are using a stand-alone application, as these generally offer more advanced features like the one I am going to explain here.

If you use OS X and want an excellent free RSS reader, look no further than NetNewsWire. It is what I currently use, and it does everything I could want and more. For those in the Windows world, I recommend FeedDemon. It is also free and full-featured.

I have my feeds grouped into many different folders. For example, I have one folder in my reader called "AR Blogroll" that contains the feeds from every blog included in the Atheist Revolution blogroll. This makes it easier to keep up with the blogs I read regularly and recommend to others. I have another folder called "New Atheist Blogs" that contains feeds for blogs I have recently discovered and am evaluating for possible inclusion in my blogroll. I have an "Atheist News" folder, and...I'm sure you get the idea by now. If not, see tip #12.

On to the tip. Suppose that I have a very large collection of feeds in a folder such that whenever I open my application, several hundred unread posts will show up for that folder. Quite a lot of information to wade through, isn't it? It would be helpful if I could narrow it down to save myself some time, at least on the days when I am rushed.

I'll give you a specific example of how this works. I have a "Mac" folder containing so many active Mac-related RSS feeds that I can count on at least 300 new posts each time I open my feed reader. The thing is, I have no interest in all the iPhone material that clutters these feeds. I am looking for Mac-related news and products and have no interest in owning an iPhone until Apple develops an e-mail system as robust as the one on my Blackberry.

The solution was to create what NetNewsWire calls a "smart list." By setting up a simple smart list, I was able to filter the entire Mac folder to eliminate any post with "iPhone" in the title. This cut the amount of material to wade through nearly in half.

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How can I apply this to my atheist-related feeds? Essentially, I can construct this sort of filter to capture and exclude virtually anything that I find annoying or that I'm simply not interested in. The beauty of this system is that I have have the choice of reviewing the original folder with everything included or the condensed smart list.

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