Google Reader

I use Google Reader all the time and I find myself telling others about it in all sorts of different situations.  I thought I’d write up some of the things I do with it.

First, what is Google Reader?  It’s an RSS aggregator which means that it pulls in information about articles from websites I’ve shown an interest in and it allows me to browse them all in one place.  Beyond that it lets you tag, organize, and search them as one would expect from a Google product.

What kind of websites?  Here’s a screenshot from my Google Reader showing a portion of what I read:

Andy's feeds

some of my rss feeds

I have a few different newspapers, several research journals along with probably 20 different technology, physics, and teaching blogs that aren’t shown in that screenshot.

What I see when I log in to Google Reader is a list of all unread articles from whichever folder I’ve chosen.  Typically I just look at them all at once.  I get about 150 different articles to read per day and if I fall behind I tend to do a mass “mark as read” just to get them off my to-do list.  It’s easy to navigate through them using all kinds of different keyboard short cuts that Google provides.

Instead of digging too deep into how I use Google Reader, I’d like to focus on why I think it’s a good tool for teachers.  Whereas I started (and continue) to use this tool to stay on top of news and information that I care about, I’ve come to really appreciate the ease with which I’m able to share interesting information with my students and colleagues.

First “sharing”.  Hitting shift-s while looking at an article marks that article to be shared.  All this means is that those marked articles get collected in one place. That becomes a page you can easily share with others.  What’s cool is that it also generates its own rss feed that you can use with little widgets you can add to your other web pages (here’s a link to my home page with such a widget).

Next “tagging”.  While the sharing feature has enabled me to quickly provide a current list of interesting articles to my colleagues, students, and friends, I wanted a way to tailor those articles to particular audiences.  In Google Reader you can do this with tags that are set to be public.  When viewing an article of interest you hit “t” and then start typing a tag.  Google will automatically start to suggest tags that already exist which you can choose from or you can make a new tag.  If the tag is set to be public, it produces its own rss feed and public page.  That one just linked is the list of articles I publish to the Hamline University Physics Department Facebook page.

What about surfing around?  Another cool tool that Google Reader provides is a bookmarklet that allows you to turn any page you visit into an article organized by Google Reader.  In other words, if I’m surfing around and stumble onto a cool web page that I’d like to share, I hit the bookmarklet button in my browser and a window pops up like this:

google reader bookmarklet

Google Reader bookmarklet

If I want to add it to one of my public pages I just hit the “add tags” button and choose the appropriate public tag.  If I “add a note” that text will also show up on the public feed and page.

I’ve found Google Reader to be a great way to stay on top of things and to organize how I provide new information to my students.  I strongly encourage you to check it out.

I’ve also posted a screencast showing how I manage all of this.  Don’t hesitate to drop me a line if you have any questions about how to set this up for yourself.  -SuperFly

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