More RSS Tools: Using Google Reader for Research and Sharing

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in March of 2009.

Google Reader gets a good mention in my RSS article, Using RSS Tools to Feed your Information Needs, but deserves an even deeper dive. This is a follow-up to that article, along with my recent posts on Integrating content with websites, and Managing Content with Pipes. We’ve established that an RSS Reader helps you manage internet information far more efficiently than a web browser can; and we’ve talked in the last few posts about publishing feeds to your web site. This post focuses on using tools like Google Reader¬†to share research .

Out of the box, GReader (as it’s affectionately known) is a powerful, web-based reader that lets you subscribe, mark and share items in two significant ways. Shared Items are items that get published to a public page that you can point your friends and co-workers to. Further, this page can be subscribed to via RSS as well, so it can be republished to your web site, or integrated into a Facebook feed. Using (fake) bill 221b as an example, if you monitor for and selectively share articles related to the bill, you can easily point co-workers and constituents to your shared page, and or republish those items in places where your audience will see them.

Shared Items are also made available to other GReader users who choose to share with you. This offers a greater level of convenience for teams working with shared research; it can also afford a level of confidentiality if you don’t want to publicize a public page. Not only can you share the items you find; you can also tag them, much like you would with Delicious or Flickr, and add a note, if you have thoughts or context-setting notes to share. A function recently added GReader takes this even further – shared items can be commented on, much as a blog post can.

The last bit to add to this arsenal is a very powerful, but not terribly obvious GReader feature. The Note in GReader bookmarklet (which you can drag to your web browser’s quick links or bookmarks toolbar from the GReader “Notes” page) lets you share, with comments and tags, pages that you find on the web as GReader shared items. So if you run across something that isn’t in your feeds (and there’s plenty of web content that can’t be subscribed to), this lets you add it to your shared items.

What I’ve found is that, as much as I admire social bookmarking sites like Delicious, they become a lot less useful when I can store all of the pages that I find via RSS or browsing, with tags and an option to share them, in the same convenient place.

It’s important to note that, as powerful as all of this is, it still lacks some functionality that similar tools have. One great advantage of using Delicious as a link-sharing tool is that you can share links specific to any tag (or set of tags). Google Reader doesn’t offer multiple shared pages based on filtering criteria. And while you can add notes to your feed (without adding links), it’s not as flexible a repository as a tool like Evernote, which lets you save web pages, ODFs and all sorts of documents to a single web-based folder.

Also, Google Reader isn’t the only game in town. The Newsgator¬†family of RSS readers offer similar sharing functions; some of which overcome the limitations above, as do other readers out there (please share your favorite in the comments).

What it boils down to, though, is that we now have powerful, integrated options for online research, as individuals, as teams, and as information agents for our constituents. The convenience of publishing as you discover is a significant advancement over earlier schemes, which usually involved either sending a lot of easily-lost links by email, or submitting your finds to a webmaster, who would then add them to a page on your site. This is a publish as you find approach that incorporates sharing and communication into the research process.

Next week, I’ll finish up the “More RSS Tools” series with a post about OPML, the way that you make your collection of feeds portable.

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