Google Reader Ninja Secrets

Last week, I introduced “How to Subscribe to a Blog.” And while this may be old hat to some, Seth reminds me that the Internet is in Eternal September.

Every day, new people show up at your blog, on Facebook, everywhere. Every day it’s a whole new crop that need to figure out what RSS is and how to subscribe.

Get Zippy with Google Reader

Once you have your account set up, and you’ve found a few blogs to subscribe to, you will benefit from learning some zippy key commands. I use these ALL THE TIME. If you use Google Reader, and don’t use key commands… pay attention.

  • j — Next Item
  • k — Previous Item
  • space — Scroll Screen Down
  • shift + space — Scroll Screen Up
  • v — Open in New Tab

Those are your key weapons. Once you’ve mastered them try:

  • u — Hide Left Sidebar
  • s — “Star” (bookmark for later)
  • shift + s — “Share” (a whole other topic)
  • a — Add Subscription

How do you expect to remember all these?

  • ? — Browse Shortcuts (that’s shift + /)

Full vs. Partial Feeds

You may have noticed that some feeds display only the first paragraph, requiring you to click through to the site to read the rest. Some feeds only show the title of the blog post!

The philosophy behind this is to increase traffic by forcing you to visit the site. Is there any benefit for the user? Not really. If you really love the site, you’re at least getting notified when there is a new article to go check out.

This is a crippling of the benefit and features of RSS, and it doesn’t benefit readers at all. It drives me crazy, and I knee-jerk unsubscribe from partial feeds. I just don’t have time for it. (Nor do I feel partial feeds respect me, my available time and my attention.)

I once commented on a game journalist/enthusiast’s blog to tell him that images in his feed weren’t rendering properly in the feed. He responded in the comments:

The feed actually isn’t supposed to include text at all, just the title and a link, so I’m not sure how you’re seeing that much. Text in feeds is already supposed to be off. I’m not sure why anyone’s able to see it, and I’m annoyed that they can. Is it so frickin’ hard to click a link once a day? I love RSS but geez, it makes people awfully lazy.

Grrr! Angry Joel unsubscribes!

RSS isn’t about being lazy. It’s about being able to stay in touch with more websites. When I read an article that resonates with me I will click through and share my energy.

Bonus Tip to WordPress Bloggers

If you use the “more” function to split your blogs on your main page, your feeds will automatically become partial. Yes, more click-throughs for you… and one less Joel Corriveau subscribed to your feed.

Stream vs. Categories

You can organize your feeds in topical folders in the left sidebar. I have a few different classifications

  • 01 A — If I needed to claim RSS bankruptcy, I clear this folder first.
  • Joel — My feeds. I don’t consider it narcissitic to monitor how my work appears.
  • Friends — These are for personal blogs of (mostly) people I know.
  • Topical — Logic, NewMedia, WordPress, Writing, Selling, Pop, etc

You can read items by folder, or “the Stream,” all folders mixed together chronologically. I usually read all items together. But if I’ve been on RSS holiday, and the New Items number is way up, I’ll wack through it by topic.

Finding New Blogs

In the right sidebar, you will see “Browse for Stuff.” Google offers bundles of blogs grouped by topic. When I first used this feature, there may have been a dozen bundles. Currently there are over 400.

There’s a lot of great stuff to discover, but there’s a ton of garbage! Your life is limited, my advice is to be as ruthless with your unsubscribing as you are inviting.


  1. I often want to see all of the items I have “starred” from a specific feed. I always go looking for a simple button to do this and can’t believe it is not there (is it, Joel?). You can view All Items or New Items for a feed, but not starred items?

    The only solution I see is the search: Put the feed name in the search box and change the search filter to “Starred Items”. Not too bad…yet I still go looking for a button all the time.

    Secondly, tags. At the bottom of each item you can assign Tags. Great for pulling together similar articles from different feeds and folders. Any tag you create will show up in your folder list. I use these for both “serious” research organization and as a simple follow-up tool (instead of ‘starring’ posts with interesting videos I have been tagging them with my Videos tag so I can go back to all the cool videos quickly).

  2. Interesting question. I don’t typically star more than 2 or 3 per day. And if I’m starring it to read later, I’ll try to come back within the week, so it will still be at the top. Then it’s just a matter of skimming the “Starred Items” list, which is just below “Home.” Surely, you know of that one button approach? (Don’t call me Shirley!).

    If it’s been more than a week or so, and I want to find a specific post, I usually rely on the awesomeness of Google search box and whatever keywords stuck in my mind that made me want to go back and find the article.

    Something I LOVE about starring items, is that even if I delete a feed, those starred items stay (and are searchable.)

    Thanks for the tagging tip. I haven’t played around with them much, but I’ll give it a go!

  3. This is really cool. Thanks for sharing this.

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