I was absolutely drowning in blogs about a year ago when a friend suggested that I sign up for a Google Reader account. I said “A What?” and they explained that it was like an inbox for my blog posts. I didn’t quite get it and, like many of our respective generation, we just went and signed me up for it. Once I saw that it worked and what I needed to do to get results, I honestly didn’t care about how it worked.

This is where my mother and I always run into problems. My initial response to new technology is, “try first, ask questions later” and hers is “understand first, then try it.” I think both are problematic. If we all just tried everything and played with it until it “worked” we’d likely never use anything very well and set up all kinds of false causalities that would eventually create problems we have no idea how to troubleshoot. On the other hand, if we try to understand everything 100%, we’d quickly realize that understanding can be a lengthy process and either get overwhelmed and give up, or never start because we never finish learning. Somewhere in the middle is where we all want to be, and ultimately where we end up anyway. So this exercise was nice in that I actually learned what RSS is, and since I already had a reader, I was a little off the hook this week ;)

I’ve been using the explanation “like an inbox for blog posts” to describe feed readers for over a year. I think it’s really inadequate and I’ll switch over to the explanation given in our 23 Things because it makes more sense:

A good way to understand RSS feeds is to think about them as magazine subscriptions: rather than having to frequently visit the newsstand to check for a new issue of your favorite magazine, you can just subscribe to it and sit back & wait for the new issues to come to you.

I love my reader because I don’t spend all day checking blogs individually. I just leave it open in my browser, like I do with my Gmail, and check it when I see new things arrive on the open tab. So good. The only draw back is that you don’t see comments or page formatting. For my part, I hardly care. If I’ve been to the page at least once, I’ve seen it. If I want to read comments or comment myself on a particular post, I click through to it. Easy as that.

Also, a really practical use for a feed reader in the immediate sense is feeding all the 23 Things participant blogs into it. I’ve been able to keep track of everyone since day one because I created a special folder for 23 Things in my Google Reader and then fed you all into it. So I spend about 2-10 minutes a day keeping track of everyone, whereas it could be as much a 30 minute to an hour if I had to click through to every blog. Just a handy tip and I attribute my 23 things sanity to it!

One problem with all this 2.0 technology is that everyone feels pressure to participate in everything or they’ll fall behind. We see this all the time with libraries that start a blog or an e-reference service, and then it falls apart or gets ignored. It’s important to know what everything is and how is works a little, but implementing all of it, well, that’s rediculous. It’s not all appropriate for all situations or all people. So I’d say get a feeder and put the 23 things blogs in it and just use it for this circumstance because it’s really helpful for this. Then you’ll be really comfortable with the technology in case anyone ever asks, and then ignore it if you don’t fall in love!

For folks who have Google Reader, I love it because it’s so simple and it allows me to share posts with other Google Reader users without having to email them links. If you’re curious about this and have Google Reader, let me know, I’d be happy to explore it with you. After all, I’ve gone through all the work of collecting these links so you don’t have to!For folks who don’t have Google Reader, I’ve linked some of my favorites to my blog in the right hand column. Enjoy!

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