Blogging tip #1 – Read more blogs

So, the first bit of advice I gave was to read more blogs. How exactly can you do that?

The joy of RSS

The great thing about blogs is that they produce RSS feeds. And the great thing about RSS feeds is that they mean you don’t have to visit every web site you want to read. Some people are subscribed to hundreds, maybe even thousands of blogs – and to bookmark and visit those sites would become a nightmare. RSS feeds mean you don’t have to – you just subscribe to the site and every time it’s updated, the new material gets sent to your reader application (also known as an aggregator) automatically. And it’s not just blogs that produce these feeds – many news and other sites do too. Soon you’ll find yourself spending as much time in your reader as your browser!

Which reader?

As with all software issues, it just depends on what suits you. There are two main routes to go down, either desktop based, where you download some software onto your machine, or browser based, where you visit a web site which displays your feed within your web browser. If you only read feeds on one machine, then it might be an idea to use a desktop app. If you travel around and use lots of different computers then the flexibility of a browser-based option might suit. Personally, as a Windows user, I use FeedDemon, a desktop application which can synchronise with the NewsGator online service, so I get the best of both worlds. Other online options include Google Reader, Onfolio and Bloglines. These have the advantage of being free (there is a small fee for FeedDemon) so are a good bet for someone just starting out.

How you arrange your feeds is another thing to think about. Me, I just line them all up in one big list. But you can generally put them into folders or tag them so you can group similar feeds together. Another way of viewing feeds is as a ‘river of news’ – with all the entries in chronological order on one screen that you scroll through. I like this style because your attention is grabbed by content, not by who you might be reading, so some interesting stuff gets thrown up that you might otherwise miss. Proper river of news support is missing from FeedDemon right now, but you can get a very good version of it using Google Reader.

Which feeds?

All of them! Seriously, the key to this is not to be selective in the feeds you subscribe to. You never know when something really interesting might pop up on them. As to where to start looking, Technorati is a good place to start – have a look at the top 100 list or the top favourited list and subscribe to those feeds you think might be interesting. Not because they are popular, or well regarded (though that is important) but because these guys often generate a lot of links out of their blogs to other people’s, giving you yet more feeds to check out. Some bloggers have link blogs (like Scoble), or updates from their del.icio.us accounts (like Steve Rubel), providing yet more tidbits. Also subscribe to sites like TechMeme and Digg to spot bigger stories as they come over the horizon.

One way of quickly building up a good list is to import someone else’s list of feeds, or blogroll, into your reader. I’ll shortly be making one available for download from this site to help any newbies out there get up to speed.

Aargh! How can I read all this stuff?

You can’t, so don’t. Instead, scan, scan, scan. This is why a ‘river of news’ view is cool when reading through feeds. Flip though them all, don’t read every word, just look out for the things that interest you. Most readers have a method of marking posts for later review, whether by chucking them into a news bin or marking them with a tag or star. That way you can go back to them for further reflection and to pick bits out to quote in your own posts.

Listening in

These days it’s not just text based blog posts that can be delivered to you through RSS though. Podcasts are audio files, usually in .mp3 format, which you can download and listen to, whether at your computer or through your .mp3 player. You have to be more selective with these, as, unlike blogs, you can’t scan them! Subscribe to the blogs first, then, when you find you trust the author/s, start downloading the podcasts too.

Summing up

There are essentially 3 things to do to read more blogs: 1) choose a system you are comfortable with; 2) subscribe to everything in sight; 3) scan first, don’t read.

Good luck!

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