The day comes in the life of every blog reader when they realize they are spending too much time reading blogs…and they don’t want to give up reading any of them. That’s why smart blog readers use a feed reader to help them stay on top of the blogs they read.
What’s a feed and why would I want to read one?
So what’s a feed reader? Well, let’s back up and figure out what a feed is, first. A feed is a special kind of file that organizes its information in a form easily read by computer programs. That orange square with the arcs in it, pictured at the beginning of this paragraph, is the standard icon, letting you know that a feed file is available for you to subscribe to. The feed reader is the program that reads the file and translates it into a form easily read by humans. Feed readers differ in their features and how they arrange the information they get from the feeds. They can be a program you install on your computer or one that you access with your web browser (Internet Explorer or Firefox).
Getting started with Bloglines and Firefox
I am going to talk about about the online feed reader that I use: Bloglines. Bloglines is free, and has a lot of features you will appreciate after you get familiar with it. We are going to start you off the easiest way possible, using Firefox, the most feed-friendly browser.
Step 1: Load up Firefox and go to your favorite blog. (We’ll be using my garden blog in our example.) Look for the feed icon in the address bar (see arrow), and click on it.
(Click image to enlarge.)
Step 2: Click the dropdown box and choose Bloglines. (Click image to enlarge.)
Make sure you 1) Check the box making Bloglines your default feed reader and 2) Click the Subscribe Now button.
When you click Subscribe Now, you’re brought to the login screen for Bloglines.
Step 3: If you don’t have an account yet, click the link to register for an account, indicated by the arrow. Otherwise, skip to Step 4.
(Click image to enlarge.)
As you can see by the message in the blue box (below), you are only provisionally registered with Bloglines at this point. You will have to check your email program for the verification link. But Bloglines will let you finish what you started.
Step 4: With the exception of the message in the blue box, you will see this screen every time you subscribe to a new feed with Bloglines. Sometimes under Available Feeds you have to choose a feed by marking a checkbox. Otherwise, you don’t have to do anything except click the Subscribe button. If you wish, you may assign the feed to a folder and modify other options, but it’s not necessary to change any of them.(Click image to enlarge.)
Now, whenever you visit a website, look for the feed icon in your address bar, as we did in Step 1. If you want to subscribe to that site, click on that icon and Firefox should take you right to Bloglines so you can finish adding it.
Bookmark http://my.bloglines.com/myblogs and save it to a convenient location, such as your main Bookmarks Toolbar Folder. You will see a screen similar to this whenever you access this link. (Click image to enlarge.)
The left sidebar lists all the feeds you are subscribed to. If any of them are bold, that means the blog was updated since you last checked it in Bloglines. Click on the name of the feed and the new posts will show up in the large pane on the right. You can either read the post right in Bloglines, or you can click on the title of the post and be taken to the post on its original website. If you plan on commenting, you will want to go to the original website anyway. But if you are skimming, you will probably stay in Bloglines.
I keep Bloglines open in a tab whenever I have my browser open, and I use it to stay current with all my favorite blogs. As you can see by looking at the sidebar on the left and the main viewing pane in the screenshot above, there are many different features to Bloglines that were beyond the scope of this tutorial. Let me know which features you’d like to know more about.
What about Google Reader?
I started with Bloglines before Google Reader became available, and I’ve stayed with it because I’m used to it. Both programs are about equal in their features, so it’s mostly a matter of which you feel more comfortable with. If you already are registered with Google for Gmail or another of their programs, you can probably find a link to their reader in that other program. Otherwise, you can choose Google Reader instead of Bloglines in Step 2.
But I use Internet Explorer!
You can have more than one browser running at a time, so be brave: Firefox won’t bite you. But sometimes it’s difficult to get used a new browser, I understand. Register for Bloglines at www.bloglines.com and put the Bloglines bookmarklet in your toolbar. Then you can click on that button every time you want to add a new feed to your reader. It’s not quite as easy, but it’s not too bad.
Once you get up to speed with Bloglines, you’ll wonder why you waited so long. It’s wonderful to be able to see at a glance which blogs have new posts, without having to go through your whole blogroll or list of bookmarks to check each one. And if you “get behind” because of a busy schedule or illness, it’s much easier to keep track of which blogs you’ve caught back up with. You can see at a glance which blogs are bolded in the sidebar and how many posts are unread.
Let me know how it goes for you, and ask any questions in the comments.