Slimming down Google Reader

Slimming down Google Reader

Discovering the magic that is an RSS feed changes the way I viewed the internet. Instead of having a massive folder of daily reads (which had grown to an amazing size over the previous 5 or 8 years), all of the updated content came to me. It seemed a novel idea - I saved so much time by not having to check sites that hadn't updated (and I would check multiple times a day. Okay, so I get a little obsessed.). I quickly pulled the RSS feeds of all of the sites that had them (and urged those that didn't in the right direction. Not entirely selfish on my part... right?) and made live bookmarks in Firefox.

It definitely was nice, but it didn't do for me what Google Reader does. Google has this way of creating/acquiring useless (::cough:: Orkut ::cough::) or industry changing apps.

This reevaluation of my feed habits was inspired by Kevron's session at BarCampMilwaukee2.


I am a compulsive checker.

I do a little work. Check my emails. Do a little more work. Go to the bathroom. Check my feeds. Think for a second... check my email again. Push around some papers on my desk. Check my feeds.

I would probably win some kind of contest that would allow Merlin Mann and David Allen to come to my house and break my fingers with binder clips and then paper cut me to death with folders and index cards (If this contest exists, please do not enter me in it. Kthnxbai).

The importance of the order of importance

I never really had much of a process to how I digested my feeds. I had everything sorted into rather broad folders with 10 or so feeds to a folder. This would be okay if I only had 20 or 30 feeds, but with the 100+ that I had and the 500+ posts that hit my reader every day, I couldn't keep up. Nothing seemed to have relevance from post to post (as I browse by folder) and I found myself actually reading about 5% of the posts and missing a lot of the important news topics.

Which is okay when you don't hang around a bunch of techies that are amazed that you hadn't heard about the new redesign on XYZ or the fact that there is another hot/lame social networking site out there.

You know me. Gotta be ahead of the trend and all that.

So I removed all of the folders and went a couple days reading posts by site instead of by topic. I would tag the site with a couple of different keywords that I found relevant to me. Before the tag I would put a number, 1 - 3, denoting how and to what extent they stuck to that topic. If one out of your ten posts was about typography you were labeled "1typography". If nine out of your ten posts spoke about CSS, then you would have been labeled "3CSS". In this way I rated the worth how close they came to what I wanted out of my experience with the site and moved on to the next feed.

At the end of five days I had a ton of tags, but a very good idea of what sites I could nix from my opml and which had a lot of value.

Each feed was put into a folder with the highest number tag. For instance, if I tagged a site 1PHP, 3Drupal, I would put it in my Drupal folder.

Those feeds with tags that all started with 1 I deleted. I obviously wasn't getting enough out of them to make it worth going through them everyday.

Reading vs. Skimming

My method is pretty simple. I have all of my feeds in the extended view. I scroll through them, skimming for things that might interest me. Instead of reading them, I star them. This saves me time and I don't worry that I will miss something important (does anyone else have those anxieties?).


After I have gone through all of my feeds, I go through my starred and dwindle them down further. Those that are worth reading or saving for later I save to my delicious account. Once I have hit the bottom, I unstar all of them.


I very rarely share stories. I don't think there are that many people that actually subscribe to my reader feed and, to tell you the truth, I am too damned lazy and have far too much other stuff to do. So follow my delicious instead ;}

Analysing Trends in reading

Of course, in my head I am thinking "I save so much time by not going to every one of these sites everyday, and I doubt this guy will update all the time. One more subscription won't hurt..." and then I am swimming in posts that I will never have the time to read. Part of my monthly review process includes checking ou the trends in Reader to see what I read/star/email the most to make sure I am getting the most out of my time. I have found that not doing this allows for unnecessary bloat and it really kills my productivity ("OMGZORZ I have 700 posts to read?! This super time-sensitive design project will have to wait!") and makes me feel a bit buried.

Improving the process further

If Google could do one thing to vastly improve Reader, it would be the ability to pull posts from feeds based on certain keywords. There are a few blogs I read that cover a variety of topics - maybe only one or two that I find interesting. I would love to be able to either create tags based on the keywords to apply either to my whole opml or to one specific feed. It could put everything else into a folder that I could choose to read, when or if I wished. It'd be much easier for quick reference, too :D

So what about you? Do you do anything that has really improved the way you digest your feeds? I am open to suggestions!

Support Diversity in Tech

95% of funding for my over 1500hrs community work per year - including this and other free online resources, AlterConf, and Fund Club - comes from donations.

Donate Now