I started reading blogs many years ago when I worked in associations. Back then it was a time-consuming process to go through my bookmarks and check each blog for new content. I had some bookmarks on my work computer and some on my home computer; it wasn’t very organized. My blog reading, as much as I enjoyed it, remained haphazard.

Then one day I discovered Google Reader and my life changed. Instead of clicking on bookmarks to see if a blog had any new posts to read, I sat back and blog posts came to me. I read them whenever I had time and didn’t have to worry about missing anything. I became a regular reader of association management blogs, learning something new about my profession everyday. I felt smarter and more motivated. Was I smarter than my boss? Who knows, but he was happy I was bringing new ideas to our chapter colleagues and to our association.

Soon I saw more and more references in these blogs to Twitter. I decided to try it out and started chatting to the association bloggers I’d been reading. Then I began to read blogs about social media and learned even more. I started commenting on blogs. And then in the spring of 2009, I became a blogger myself. It all started with Google Reader.

What’s in it for you?

A peek at the folders in my Reader will give you a sense of its benefits.

  • My Google Alerts and Twitter search results are sent there, as well as alerts from other listening tools, so I can keep up with mentions of my name or work. I can be responsive to others and participate in conversations that interest me. Even if your organization doesn’t participate in social media, please, at least set up Google Alerts.
  • Folders for blogging and writing, social media, marketing and association management keep me up to speed on my professional development.
  • Many of my friends (both near and far) blog about topics outside of my professional interests. By reading their blogs I get to keep up with their lives and expand my universe.
  • I subscribe to a lot of blogs about cooking, food and craft beer that are just plain fun and give me lots of recipes to try.
  • If you read a blog regularly, you’ll soon find yourself commenting regularly and feeling like part of the blog’s community.

How do you find good blogs to read?

  • My blogroll (down the sidebar to the right) is a good place to start. Check out their blogrolls too.
  • Alltop calls itself the online magazine rack of the web. Find new blogs by browsing through its topics.
  • If you’re on Twitter, check the profile of those you follow. Do they have blogs? You’ll also discover new blogs in the links shared by others. If you follow people with Twitter lists, see if any of the lists refer to experts. “Experts” usually have blogs.
  • If you see a thoughtful or helpful comment on a blog you read, click on the link embedded in the person’s name; perhaps they have a blog worth subscribing to.

Subscribing to blogs is easy.

Commoncraft has two videos that explain the process well – RSS in Plain English and Google Reader in Plain English.

It’s easy:

  • Click on the orange RSS icon (example to the right), feed burner icon (example to the right) or text similar to “subscribe to RSS feed” or “subscribe to Atom feed.”
  • The next window will display buttons for several types of readers. Select Google. Eventually you can set this as your default.
  • You’ll be given two options, “Add to Google Homepage” and “Add to Google Reader.” Select the Reader option.
  • Your Google Reader will open up. You may have to log in first, meaning you will need to set up a gmail account. In Reader, click on the drop-down for Feed Settings. Select whether to sort posts from this blog by newest first or oldest first, and select a folder for its posts.

Google has a bookmark bar button that makes it easy to “Subscribe as you Surf.” In your Reader, go to Settings, then Goodies, to find it.

Organize your Reader.

Create folders by topics. You can do this as you subscribe to blogs by selecting the New Folder option in the drop-down Feed Settings menu. You can rename folders and blog subscriptions anytime. You can also reorder your folders so that your priority folders are up top.

Use keyboard shortcuts.

Google Reader has many keyboard shortcuts. Go to Help and search for “keyboard” to see the full list. Here are the ones I use most frequently:

  • v – opens up the original blog post in another tab
  • j – moves you to the next item in feed
  • k – moves you back to the previous item in feed
  • s – star – favorite or unfavorite (toggle)
  • m  – marks as read or unread (toggle)
  • e – emails item
  • ? – displays guide to all the shortcuts (toggle)

Manage your Reader.

You will soon find that you are subscribing to everything. You groan as you open Reader because you have 1000+ unread items. Don’t stress. Accept the fact that you will never read everything and that’s okay. Skip through posts (using the “j” key shortcut) and only read the ones that really pop out at you. Become friendly with the “mark as read” option.

If you want to clean up your Reader but don’t have time to read all the posts you wish, save some for later by adding a star (located at the bottom left of each post). You can access your starred posts from the top right of your Reader.

Every now and then, view your Subscription Trends to see which subscriptions you are ignoring and can easily delete.

There are some Firefox add-ons that may help with the “read later” process, but I haven’t tried them yet – Read It Later and Feedly. If you use these, I’d love to know how you like them.

That’s how I use Google Reader. Do you have any other tips to share? Does anyone use the Tags feature? Or share items regularly?

UPDATE: In response to this post, Maddie Grant shares several Google Reader tips on the SocialFish blog.