Why I read blogs – and how you can get started reading them too!

This week I’ve had discussions with 2 friends, neither of who are bloggers.  In fact, neither of them read blogs either.  It’s interesting talking to people like this because reading blogs has been a part of my daily routine for so long that I’ve actually forgotten how I managed to know what my interstate and overseas friends were up to before reading them.  Within my technical community, it’s also the way that we share knowledge about the things we learn during the day.  An example was this post made last night by an ex-Readify colleague which let me know that I could use check-in policies to enforce code maintainability.  Now I’m sure that I would have learned about this feature in some other way in the future, by the same token, I’m even gladder that I know it today.

Blogs are actually a great way to learn.  I use them to learn about the daily happenings of my work colleague’s, my friends, and also to learn from thought leaders about various other topics.  I do all of this by subscribing to their blogs. 

As an example of how I benefit from reading blogs, consider the blog of somebody such as Scott Guthrie.  Scott works for Microsoft in Redmond and manages the teams that build most of the developer products that I use on a daily basis.  In his blog, Scott shares stories and information about new product that is coming out, he shares excellent (and very detailed) tips about how to use their latest stuff, and he also talks a bit about life inside of Microsoft.  Consider what my experience of Microsoft was before having had access to blogs such as Scott’s.  Typically the only access that I would have had to information would have been by reading Microsoft’s blog, or to subscribe to a corporate email newsletter which tried its hardest to interest me in various shiny new things.  Yet neither of this can connect me to Microsoft as much as a person who I’ve met can.  So, in reading Scott’s blog, the experience of learning is much more personal than through a piece of sanitized, corporate messaging.

And it’s the same with my work peers too.  Imagine if the only way that I learned about what they were up to was from a monthly newsletter which told me such bold things as: "New Arrivals", "The upcoming staff Christmas function", and "Employee of the month".

Getting started

So how do you get started if you want to read blogs?  First thing you’ll need is an ‘Aggregator’.  If you don’t know what an aggregator is, take a read of this Wikipedia article first, and then come back:

     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aggregator

There’s lots of different aggregators out there – some of which you access from a web page and some of which you have to download and install.  There are plenty of great free ones out there though, so you shouldn’t have to pay for them.  Actually, Vista and Office 2007 now have aggregation software built into them, so at worst, you can consume your ‘feeds’ with tools you probably already have installed today.

I prefer to use a web-based aggregator – mostly because, in my travels I use many different computers and devices, and it would be too difficult to ensure that my favorite aggregator was installed on each of them.  With a web-based aggregator however, I can simply point my browser to the same URL – regardless of which machine I happen to be on at the time – and all of my feeds will be there, available to me.  So I’m going to describe how to get set up using the software I use which is Google Reader.

To get started, point your browser at http://reader.google.com.  When you arrive at that page you will need to log in before you can start so unless you already have an account with Google, you will need to create one for yourself first:

Capture

After creating your account, you can login to the Google Reader site at which point you should have access to the aggregator functionality.  Here’s a screenshot of my aggregator – although obviously yours will look much emptier to start with because you haven’t subscribed to any RSS feeds yet.

Capture1

As you can see, I’ve marked out 3 major areas within my aggregator, which are:

  1. Add subscription: clicking on this guy allows you to add new RSS feeds to your aggregator
  2. Feed list: a categorized listing of all of the RSS feeds that you have subscribed to
  3. Reading pane: displays the actual unread articles from feeds within your subscriptions

Creating your first subscription

There’s plenty of documentation within Google Reader which explains how to use the software, but for the purposes of completeness, I’ll now explain how to add your first subscription.

First you have to find the URL of a feed that you want to subscribe to.  These are not too hard to find because usually there’s a big red button that you can click on any web page which offers an RSS feed – and now most modern browsers also have a button to indicate that there’s an RSS feed available from the page that you are on.  Here’s what these look like when my browser is looking at Richard Banks‘ blog:

Clicking on either of these buttons will take you to a new page.  From the new page, grab the URL and go back and add it as a subscription in your Google Reader aggregator.  There you have it, your first feed.  Immediately you should notice the last half-dozen or so posts from that author appear in your reading pane.  You can scroll down to read these and they’ll be marked as read as soon as you do so.

There’s a bunch of other more advanced options such as Starring and Sharing of blog posts as well as Categorization of RSS feeds within your aggregator – but this has been long enough already and I’m sure that you are itching to head off and start subscribing to some other feeds.

Conclusion

So now each morning, just like I do, you can open Google Reader while you eat and drink your way through breakfast to read the daily happenings of the people and companies whose feeds you’ve subscribed to.

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~ by D on November 16, 2007.

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