5 Tips for Getting the Most out of Google Reader

I’m an RSS junkie, and while I realize that not all of the world’s problems can be solved using RSS, for many of us, more efficient use of our RSS readers can have a big impact on our overall productivity. As Google Reader (s goog) seems to be one of the more widely-used RSS readers and is the that one I currently use, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips for getting the most out of it.

Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

You can blast through your feeds with a few simple keyboard shortcuts that allow you to quickly move around without slowing down to reach for the mouse or the touchpad. It also seems that some features don’t really have a click-able counterpart, so the only way to access them is through the keyboard shortcuts. You can get a list of the available keyboard shortcuts from the Google Reader help page, but here are a few of my personal favorites that I use most frequently:

  • ? – get a list of keyboard shortcuts
  • j – move to the next item in the feed
  • k – move to the previous item in the feed
  • <space> – page down
  • <enter> – open or close an item
  • v – view original post
  • r – refresh feed

Go Full screen

For really serious reading, you’ll want to go into full screen mode and use all of your available screen real estate for reading feeds. In full screen mode, you get a simple window showing the current feed with no additional clutter. You can navigate using the navigation shortcuts above, in addition to some shortcuts that are specific to using full screen mode:

  • f – enter or exit full screen mode
  • <shift>+u – show pop-up navigation menu to change feeds

Ditch the Home Page

While the home page has some interesting things like tip of the day and recently read items, if your goal is to maximize your productivity and efficiency, you should set your landing page to something else. I have all of my most important feeds in a single folder named “Critical” and I start there. You can change your start page by going to Settings -> Reader settings -> Preferences -> Start page, and select from any folder that you have created, or from a selection of other pages (All items, Starred items, etc.)

Group and Prioritize

I make extensive use of folders as a way to group and prioritize my feeds. They have become even easier to use after the recent addition of the rename folder functionality. The feeds that are most important located at the top of my navigation window. The order of the folders denotes their importance to me, but this shifts around a bit depending on my current projects. I simply drag the folders around within the subscriptions navigation pane to reorder them.

I also group things into folders based on projects or context. For example, I usually put my work-related feeds into a couple of folders grouped by topic that I can easily get through without being distracted by personal items. Keep in mind that you can also click on a folder and navigate through all of the posts within that folder across all of the feeds, so you can get through the folder more quickly than if you are navigating the individual feeds. As a result, I sometimes put critical feeds in multiple folders (critical folder and project folder) so that I can glance at it when I land on my start page of critical feeds or when I’m browsing through the project folder. Reading an item in one folder also marks it as read in any other folder, so you don’t have to worry about duplication.

Use Trends

The trends page is surprisingly interesting and useful. You can find it in the left-hand navigation pane, or with this shortcut combination: g then <shift>+t. While you can get some interesting insights into which feeds you really read, when you read them and what you clicked, the real value is in pruning your feeds. Take a look at the frequently-updated feeds section of the subscription trends; these are the high volume feeds in your reader. Now, which ones do you really still read and which ones have the zero percent read rating? You can unsubscribe from the dead weight by clicking the conveniently-located trash can, and it won’t take you long at all to reduce the clutter.

What are your favorite tips for using Google Reader?