Sunday, March 04, 2007

Google Reader

As many of you know, I'm a bit of a Google fanboy, using as I do GMail, Google Talk, Google Earth, Google Analytics, Blogger, Picasa, Calendar, and of course Search in all its forms. Thus it may not come as a surprise that I'm very impressed with the Google RSS Reader. Even so, I like it so much that I feel I have to recommend it.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and basically enables you to subscribe to news and blogs without visiting each site. This blog for example, can be read entirely by pasting the URL "" into a news reader. The news reader then fetches the updates as soon as I post them, which is much more convenient that manually checking my site each day.
There are many web-based and client RSS readers available these days, see here for a list. Up to a few weeks ago, I used a combination of Thunderbird and Firefox, and was very happy with both.
Then I stumbled upon the Google Reader. Like most Google products, it's browser-based, so there's no need to install anything. All you need is a Google account. Then add a few feeds and away you go. You don't even need to know the feed URL, e.g. for this feed just click "Add subscription", type "", and the Reader finds the URL for you.
The beauty of the web-based system is that regardless of what machine you happen to be using, your feeds are always there, and the read items always synced. The integration with Firefox 2.0 is particularly smooth, so that Reader Subscribe and Next buttons can easily be placed on the Task bar. There's even a Firefox add-on which keeps count of your unread items at the bottom of the browser (I'm on 723 unread today, feedreading is difficult at weekends :-).
Apart from reading your news and blogs, Google Reader also gives you the opportunity to share and email what you read. You can even set up a feed of what you're sharing. For example, on, there's a box with "Macartan's shared items" - this shows what I've found interesting in my news and blogs recently.
Note this is a beta product, and stability is still an issue. I see an "Oops, an error has occurred" occasionally, but you can usually just hit the Home link and start again.
Try it out yourselves.

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