Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Google Reader

Let me first say that I love RSS feeds. I think they're so useful, and not just because they help me stay more up-to-date than my friends on current events. I use them in the form of podcast subscriptions; I use them for updates on my favorite blogs; and I use them to find cheap airfare. They're great.

One key drawback to the very idea of reader is that they can contribute to information overload and should be used somewhat cautiously. If you're the type of person who is always slogging through websites looking for new things on a particular subject, then Google Reader is designed for you. It saves you the time of wading your way through huge amounts of useless information. However, if you're not particularly interested in a topic but sign up for the RSS feed about it, then your inbox can get pretty crowded pretty quickly with unread messages.

I made this mistake the first time I signed up for Google Reader. I was feeling a little overly ambitious about the sources I was interested in and signed up for all of the political news coming from the New York Times, arts and politics from the Huffington Post, and a small Seattle-based newspaper called The Stranger (I know, really American, but to my defense, I was living in America at the time). Within days I was knee-deep in articles that I just could not be bothered to read. I felt really overwhelmed by something that was designed to simplify my life.
I think the really important way to treat RSS feeds--and a treatment I failed to do the first time--is to define the perimeters well. Luckily, librarians are pretty good at that. Maybe in the future there would be some way for the libraries to create feeds for students and other library users about things coming up that are relevant to them, like in the form of upcoming career events, information literacy sessions, or general news about the library. Perhaps the feed could be attached to web page that students visit frequently, like the homepage or Upgrade. The practical implications of this, however--the cost and licensing--could be daunting and make such an endeavor unrealistic.

Here is a picture of my newly updated Google Reader. I haven't added much, but I'm not in a big hurry to fill it up with subscriptions I'll never look at. I'd rather take my time with this one, and only add something when I know that I really like the website.


  1. First: Congratulations on reaching post number three!
    Second: I had the same experience when I first used google reader. I think the problem is made worse when a post is edited because I think it shows up as a new post in the RSS feed. I think it depends on whether you are the kind of person that can live with unread things in your inbox - personally I am not; I have to be strict with what I follow.
    Finally: I think that librarians might be able to put together RSS feeds and things using yahoo pipes and then put them into websites... but as with all things like this, it's always way more complicated than it sounds.

  2. I use reader all. the. time. but I'm pretty rigourous about just deleting feeds when I get bored, mainly because I add new ones all the time - and I FORCED myself to not care about how many unread items I have. Doing that means there's always something to read, it's a bit like having a personalised 'random internet' button.

    One thing that's pretty cool about it (or really terrifying, depending on your view of google) is that it learns what you actually like and read pretty quickly, so if you just click on the 'reader' icon in the top left, then it will give you 'a look at what's new' that you'll probably enjoy.

    And with the RSS-for-librarians thing: easiest way to do it is to set up your own blog, link w/a bit of commentary, and use that feed. Or, you can just display feeds from other places in your homepage if your inst will let you - good e.g. of this here on my old subject guide at Middlesex.

  3. That's a really good real world example - keeping up to date with getting news on cheap air fares! Exactly the sort of real life information literacy example I like to hear about! And great to use as an example when talking to users about feeds, is they dont 'get' the concept to begin with.

    I need to learn more about Yahoo pipes myself!

    Rowena 23 Things team