Google Reader Rocks

I love it. If you haven’t tried it, or if you’ve never really thought about feed readers (or even know what a feed is!), you really should check it out. If you love to devour stuff all over the web, and sometimes struggle to keep track of it all, Google Reader is worth a serious look.

Feeds, RSS, XML… it sounds horribly geeky, but it’s incredibly useful. It’s really a big part of what’s going to keep the web managable for people going forward. Almost every site out there makes a feed available. Newspapers, blogs, photo sites, message boards… Feeds are everywhere, yet sometimes almost invisible.

Before, you might have all your favorite sites bookmarked and click your way through. You might be extra cool, and open ’em all in a flash via tabbed browsing. But you know what? You’re still visiting all those sites. You’re still downloading cluttered web pages, wasting time, especially if it turns out there’s nothing new to see there, or if there’s nothing particularly interesting.

Now, thanks to feed readers, you can keep up with all those sites with astonishing ease. Feeds are basically stripped down digests of a site’s content. And instead of visiting the site to see what’s up, a feed reader does the checking for you, brings the new stuff back, and helps you sort through it quickly.

Now, there are lots of feed readers (or aggregators) out there. I previously used, and paid for, a product called Newsgator. It ran on my Windows PC, and even integrated with Outlook, so I could click through new items as easily as I could e-mail. Most of the newer feed readers are web-based, like Bloglines. Yahoo!, AOL, other services do similar things now. Visit one site, and get a nice overview of dozens of other sites. Good stuff.

Well, take that concept, and add in Google’s distinct talent for elegant, simple, functional design. Voila, Google Reader. It’s almost impossible to describe, so here’s a look at my feed collection:

Home View All Items View

On one screen, I can track new posts at HawaiiThreads, comments on my blogs, comments on my photos at Flickr, my friends blogs and Flickr photostreams, posts at my favorite blogs like Metafilter and Boingboing, Mac news from several sites, local headlines, podcasts (Google Reader has an integrated audio player)… I’ve actually added sites I never had the time for before, ’cause now I can track them all in one place.

In fact, I was a little surprised to find that very few of the sites I used to bookmark and browse daily don’thave feeds.

Now I can get an at-a-glance look at all of them, handy keyboard shortcuts to dig through everything, the ability to "star" or tag items to find them easily later, and even share them on a special blog that links the various articles around the web that I found particularly interesting during my rounds. (I’ve added my “Shared Items” feed to the sidebar of my main blog page.) The only thing missing, believe it or not, is a way to search through it all. That’s probably on the to-do list.

It’s awesome. You have to try it.

Yeah, I know. As if Google needed to own any more eyeballs on the web. Those guys at Google Labs just keep coming up with great stuff (or, of course, buying it)… Gmail, Google Talk, Google Earth and Google Maps, Google SketchUp (an awesome 3-D design program), Google Calendar, the I’ve-yet-to-play-with Google Docs & Spreadsheets, the previously blogged Google Transit… the list really does go on and on. I try not to be a Google fanboy, but sometimes it’s too hard to resist!

If I can get my wife to use it on her celebrity and gossip blogs, she might save enough time to start updating her blog again.

An earlier version of this post posted at HawaiiThreads.com.

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