Blogging Technology: Reading

Some hints on how to use technology to save time and increase effectiveness when reading blogs.

This post is the result of a conversation during the UK Methodist Bloggers Meeting help 4 & 5 January 2008.

Blogs are web pages and so many of us read them normally within our normal Web Browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera etc). This works well and is of course the default for most of us when we end up at a blog page after a search on a search engine such as google. It also works well when exploring blogs (for example by following links within a blog post or when looking at a blogroll).

However, for regular reading of your favourite blogs this has a major flaw. The only way to discover if a blog has new content is by viewing it, very time consuming and inefficient (especially for both very active and very quiet blogs). Using this technique it is typically only possible to monitor a small number of blogs and even then it can be hard to feel part of the community.

The solution is at the heart of what makes a blog a blog. All blogs (essentially by definition) produce "feeds", sometimes called "newsfeeds". There are two main alternative formats for these which you may see mentioned "atom" and "rss". You will also see an icon for feeds such as . In simplistic terms a feed contains a list of new posts on a blog.

Feeds are of no (or very limited) use on their own, they are not designed to be human readable but to be read by computer software. So you use feeds in conjunction with a Newsfeed Reader. If you have not tried one before then I recommend that you start with either Bloglines or Google Reader. Both are free, both are web based (which means there is nothing to install on your computer). When you use either of these you can subscribe to any blog (or indeed any website with a feed) and the newsfeed reader will then track new posts for you.

Using either Bloglines or Google Reader (or one of the 1,000′s of alternatives) saves hours. When you login you will see a list of all the blogs that you have subscribed to. All the blogs with new posts will be clearly marked (it is very like seeing your email organised into folders and seeing which folders have unread messages in them). You can then read the new posts within that browser window (much quicker as for example I can see all the new posts from UK Methodists in a single list and just page down through it). You can also open any post in a new window or tab (for example if you wish to leave a comment, write your own post, or view the complete original formatting).

All newsfeed readers offer other facilities as well (searching, marking etc).

Beyond using a newsreader to read/monitor blogs (and currently I have subscribed to 230 in bloglines) the other big help in reading blogs is Blog Flux Commentful. You can see when I discovered it via a helpful comment from  Dave Faulkner on 42: Do blog comments work? Commentful makes it simple and practicable to contribute to discussions on blogs knowing that you can tell when extra comments are added. No more randomly going back to see if someone has replied to your comment. It is a huge time saver.

As with any well behaved web application commentful can provide you with a feed to monitor in your newsfeed reader (or you can use the plugin for Firefox). Other applications that can do this include facebook (all the notifications without cluttering up your email).

7 thoughts on “Blogging Technology: Reading

  1. PamBG

    OK, I tried making a ‘UK Methodist’ folder in my Bloglines and now I have to click about 3 times to get to the blogs. I wonder what I’ve done? Arrrggh.

  2. Dave Warnock

    a) If you have a folder in Bloglines and it is open then bloglines will remember that next time you go in. That can reduce mouse clicks.
    b) If you have a “UK Methodist” folder that contains say 10 blogs then you can click on the folder name itself to see all the new posts from all those blogs at the same time in the right hand pane. I find this a great time saver.
    If there are less than 20 new posts in any folder then I don’t bother opening the folder to see the blogs one by one, I just click on the folder heading and page through all the posts (any I am interested in I click with the middle mouse button [or control click with left mouse button] to open in a new Firefox tab). When I reach the bottom of the posts I can then press Ctrl+PageDown to go to the next tab to see the 1st post I opened, when finished with that Ctrl+W closes that tab and takes me to the next post until the last Ctrl+W takes me back to bloglines to choose the next folder.
    If I find I have opened a lot of tabs (maybe a lot of posts I think I might write posts about) then I leave the tabs open, close the bloglines tab and open bloglines again in a new browser window. It is not unusual for me to have one virtual desktop with 10 browser windows each with multiple tabs (not more than 20 tabs per window usually). At this moment I only have 6 browser windows and a total of 12 tabs open, but some of those have been open for over a week (I can close down Firefox [even reboot the machine, but this is Linux so not needed] and when I restart Firefox it will re-open all the Windows and tabs).
    For me the groupings into folders is quite important. I try to make it so that I am going to either have time to read a whole folder or choose to skip it (by clicking the heading but not actually reading the posts). I don’t like folders where I am going to read some posts but not others as it takes a lot longer to process.
    You can re-organise the folders at any time by clicking “Edit” just at the top of the folder list. I also know my own folder groupings need some tidying up.
    Hope that helps.


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