Early stage startup marketing & community management + the great outdoors.

Google Reader: A Custom News Site?

A friend was recently asking me why I use Google Reader – what value do I get out of it and why can’t a regular message board do the same thing?   Before I get into the specifics, Google Reader, for me, has essentially become a fully customized news site.  Rather than visiting CNN, MSNBC, WSJ, and the slew of marketing-related blogs, I simply subscribe to the topics and authors that I choose.  The end result is a one-stop shop for the best news from various sources – the best of the best.

For authors, having your name (or article) associated with a large media outlet certainly still adds credibility but increasingly I’m digging through Twitter and Facebook to find niche-authors  that might not have the viewer count as CNN but certainly have the great news and ideas.  Forums, wiki pages, chats, and the loads of other resources won’t be replaced by Google Reader, it’s just another format to help organize the web – and for me, it’s invaluable.

In all honesty, the hardest part of Google Reader is how to keep it organized in a manner in which I can read as much as possible.  Like email, Twitter, and other distribution tools, it’s easy to get caught up in consumption and spend too much of your day simply digesting the flow of information.

Here’s a quick example of how I’ve setup my Google Reader;

  • Job Hunt – I’ve setup some various searches using RSS feeds and imported them to Google Reader.  I love it – for me, it’s a much easier way to keep track of what I’ve seen, break them out by category, and even forward relevant posts to friends when I think they may be interested.  The problem, however, is that I quickly realized the importance of HR having RSS-friendly sites.  You’d be surprised how many do not.
  • Craigslist – simply put, this is the best way to maintain saved searches (similar to how eBay does) across various Craigslist geos.  CL has notoriously shutdown sites that crawl across all areas (i.e. Boston v. New Hampshire) – a huge problem for me since I’m not going to search every site individually. Saved searches can be tricky to get the queries right to filter out a lot of the junk and spam (I use lots of ‘–negative’ matches) but once you do it’s a great quick read.
  • Google Blogs  – This is pretty straight forward.  I follow their API, Gmail, Inside AdWords, general, and a couple topic-related blogs.
  • Industry News – There are a few you just need to track.  I read these to various degrees – I love Battelle’s writing, Mashable I read via Twitter, and others  I just wait for someone else to screen their posts and flush out the notables.
    • Company blogs: FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, Bing/MSN/AdCenter, Yahoo
    • Industry experts: John Battelle, Walt Mossberg, Danny Sullivan, Matt Cutts, Seth Godin, Chris Brogan, et al.
    • Industry news sites: Mashable, The Community Roundtable, Search Engine Journal/Land/Watch (3 different sites)
    • Hobbies – Beer, bikes, skis, and everything else outdoors.
    • Friends Blogs – With a few exceptions, most of my friends aren’t quite as interested in blogging  so this category is usually a quick read but I love encouraging them and it’s great to keep up with them beyond the usual Facebook status updates.
    • Twitter Searches – Yes, even Twitter searches are RSS friendly.  The most common one I use is simply a search for “@MattSolar” to make sure I don’t miss any replies.  I’ve also setup searches for various topic and even “@JimStorer”, my Twitter mentor, to get a better sense of how he’s engaging with his followers.  [@JimStorer is usually deleted around Red Sox pre-season]
    • Any index page.  Google Reader recently implemented the ability to add any page – even if it’s not RSS enabled – into your Google Reader.  While it doesn’t always work 100% well (formatting is usually an issue) it does add more value.

There you have it – my take on Google Reader’s value.  It’s my custom homepage for information consumption.  I’d love to hear how other people use it – frequency, organization, subscriptions.  Leave a comment below or @/DM me on Twitter.

Next up; whether the iPad + Google Reader is the perfect combination for “off computer” information consumption.

Thanks for reading.

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