Newbie's Guide to Google Reader

RSS feeds aren't so scary. Give Google Reader a try using Google Reader and we think you'll enjoy them quite a bit.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
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      What is Google Reader and why should you use it?

      Google Reader is a free, Web-based reader for RSS feeds. You can find feeds on nearly every Web site. RSS feeds offer a simplified view of Web content down to just text, pictures and videos--minus the site's style and formatting, which can sometimes hinder or befuddle casual reading.

      Google reader lets you subscribe to these feeds as easily as typing them into your browser's address bar, and lets you read them like you're browsing through e-mail. There are many online RSS readers available, but Google is one of the best. It's easy to get a grip on Google Reader basics, but there are several tips and tricks that can make it extremely productive.

      Setup: Finding RSS Feeds

      As mentioned earlier, nearly every site has an RSS feed, and you can usually find it by scrolling around and hunting for the little RSS logo (a little orange box with three white waves). What makes Google Reader particularly useful is that it can take any old Web site URL and find the RSS feed on its own. If you don't quite remember the name of the site, or the exact URL, Google Reader has a built in directory you can search by keyword. There's also a neat feature called "bundles" that has over a dozen themed groups of preselected feeds you can subscribe to at once. Adding one of these bundles organizes the newly subscribed feeds into a handy folder.


      Once you get going with Google Reader, you'll likely have a bunch of sites that need organizing into groups. The easiest tool to handle this is folders. To begin this process, just click on manage subscriptions in the lower left-hand corner of Google Reader's main page. This will take you to an options menu where you can create and delete folders and feeds, as well as quickly categorize the feeds you have into folders.

      To swap folders quickly, use the drop-down menus. CNET Networks

      To change or make a new folder, there's a drop-down menu on the far right side of each feed. To make a new folder, click on it, and pick the New Folder option. After naming it, the feed you clicked on in the first place will automatically be sorted into this folder. Once you've created a folder, you can quickly add several feeds by clicking the drop-down button on the far right to change folders.

      Seasoned Gmail users might be familiar with "starring" and labeling, Google's simplified version of managing feeds and stories instead of folders. Google Reader is no different, letting you star or tag posts with labels for quick sorting later on. There are two ways to star a story--either click on the star icon on the top left of a story, or add star option on the bottom left. To read through just starred items, pick the starred items feed on the top left menu.

      Labeling is a slightly more complicated affair, but a powerful tool to swap through genres of feeds with just a few keystrokes. Like stars, you can tag any feed item on the fly by clicking the edit tags button on the lower right hand side of the story. You'll notice right away the story has automatically been tagged with its parent folder. To actually search through tags, you'll have to use a simple keyboard shortcut by pressing G followed by T. This will pull up an overlay that lets you sort through stories by tag using your keyboard arrows. We'll get into more depth on keyboard shortcuts in the advanced tidbits section below.

      Continue reading to learn how to read and share feeds, along with some advanced tidbits for taking your reading to the next level.


      The service presents stories in two ways: expanded and list view. Gmail users will find list view quite familiar, as it's made up of headlines and the first few words of each story. Clicking on a title expands it so you can read the entire thing. If you really want to speed up the reading process at the expense of some initial load time, just click the Expanded View tab on the top right hand corner of the reader. This will expand all the stories to their full size, and make it easier to read entire stories, similar to browsing the host site.

      If you want to read any story from its source, you can either click the headline while the story is open, or just hit V on your keyboard.


      See a story you want to share with somebody? There are two simple ways to do it. The first is with the e-mail this button below each story. Clicking it will open up a compose message dialog using Gmail right underneath the story. You've got 1,000 characters (about two large paragraphs) to add your two cents. Whoever gets it will get a full version of what you're seeing, along with links to the original story, and options to subscribe to the RSS feed on Google Reader.

      The other way to share your stories without filling up people's in-boxes is with the share button at the bottom of each story. This is basically the closest thing Google Reader has to a friends feature. Clicking it will automatically publish it to a publicly available blog. You can share the link to the blog with your friends, or give them the RSS feed so they can subscribe to it in Google Reader or any other RSS reader. If you decide later on you don't want to share a story, you can uncheck the share button to unpublish it.

      Advanced user tidbits/add-ons

      Using J&K on your keyboard lets you skip between stories. CNET Networks

      Keyboard Shortcuts

      One of the big reasons Google Reader is so popular with blog junkies is its keyboard shortcuts. Once you've learned the basics, you can quickly plow through a few hundred stories in one sitting, and more importantly, without relying on your mouse to do the legwork.

      The first shortcut worth learning is Shift + ?, which will pull up an overlay with a full listing of all the keyboard shortcuts--just in case you get lost. Next, to navigate back and forth between stories, use J and K. Switching between different sites, or groups of feeds gets a little trickier, but if you're willing to think in terms of abbreviations, it's not so tough. Browsing through feeds is just like going through stories, except now you hold shift and use N ("Next") and P ("Previous") to go up and down. When you've found your feed, keep holding shift and hit the O key (for Open).

      Finally, if you're on a small screen, or just feel like ditching the feed menu on the left, you can hide it or unhide it just by pressing U. This should give you an extra 240 pixels or so for your stories.

      Google Gears: you can take it with you

      CNET Networks

      Until a few months ago, there was no way to access your feeds while offline in Google reader. If you're about to hop on a flight, or are planning to be in a place without an internet connection, you can install Google Gears--a small plug-in for Firefox and Internet Explorer that will let you download the 2,000 latest items from your feeds. You can then read, star and share your items at leisure while offline. Once you go "live" again, it will sync up.

      Once you've got Gears installed a small green button will show up right next to your username in the top right-hand corner. When it's green it means you're online. If you're planning to take things offline, just click the button, and it will download your feeds. Once you're hooked up to the Internet again, just click the button again.

      Greasemonkey: Read your feeds in your e-mail in-box

      Are you a Gmail user? Want to read stories in Google Reader while checking your e-mail at the same time? If you simply can't stand to have two windows or tabs open, you can install this handy script for Greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that lets you customize all sorts of Web sites and services. Once installed it will add a new source to your Gmail in-box called "feeds," which contains all of your subscribed feeds in list view.

      This script was created by a Google employee, who is incidentally one of the team members working on Google Reader, so it's likely to continue to be tweaked and supported, or eventually added into Gmail.

      Google Reader's trends tracker shows what hour of the day you read the most stories. CNET Networks


      Are you a stats junkie? If so, you're in luck, because Google is watching your every move. At least they're nice enough to let you in on some of the stats they're recording with their "trends" feature. Clicking on Trends on the top left hand menu will show you your reading and subscription trends, along with how which feeds update the most, and more importantly--which feeds you're actually reading. This is a very handy way to clean house, and get rid of feeds that are simply taking up space. You can also see which feeds are simply inactive, or haven't had a single post in the past month.

      Trends will also let you see how many stories you've read in the past 30 days, along with the hours of the day, and days of the week you get the most reading done. For visual stats junkies for whom graphs and charts simply don't suffice, there's also a nifty tag cloud which shows you which stories you're giving the most play in a handy tag cloud.

      Other resources:

      This guide is little more than a start into RSS reading using Google Reader. Many others have published their own tips, tricks, and resources. Here are some of our favorites, and if you've come across one on your own, feel free to let us know in the TalkBack and we'll add it in:

    • Official Google Reader Tour
    • Hack Attack: Getting good with Google Reader (LifeHacker)
    • Robert Scoble on how he reads his 600+ feeds every morning (Video by the folks at FourHourWorkWeek.com)
    • Tiny printable Google Reader keyboard shortcut cheat sheets. Put 'em on your monitor at home or work. (ThomasKorte.com)
    • Add your read items feed to your WordPress blog, or posts (Chimp Simple Publishing)