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Google Applications Series Part 1: Google Reader

The first Google application we'll be looking at in this series is Google Reader. What is Google Reader? The best way I can describe Reader is a centralized location to receive content from all of your favorite websites. Now what does that mean? I'll try to explain.
RSS Icon Sample
If you've ever used RSS to keep up with your favorite websites, I think you will greatly appreciate Reader. If you're not familiar with RSS, to quickly explain, it is a format used to get a summary of content published to a website. This could be the latest news, weather, sports, blog posts, or any other type of content made available on a website. You may have even seen the icon for RSS on websites before, as shown to the right.
The benefits to using Reader are many. For one, I used to keep a lot of Live bookmarks in my Firefox browser both at work and at home. The problem I would run into is that if I found a new site to bookmark at home, I would always forget to add it on my other PCs, and vice versa. Reader provides a centralized location that you can access from anywhere if you have an Internet connection.
 
Google Reader Home Page
The Home page is displayed when you first log into Reader. It displays updated stories from each RSS feed that you're subscribed to. From here you can select to read all of the updated entries, or select a specific webpage at the bottom to view content from. There are also recommendations for other websites to subscribe to based on the content you are already subscribed to.
When you first start using Google Reader, you will not have any content to read. To subscribe to a site, just click on the Add Subscription link. This will
Google Reader Add Subscription
then display a field to enter the website address. You have multiple options from here: you can paste a direct link to a feed, you can just type in the domain name of the website, or you can enter search terms to display a list of sites with those terms. Once you have added a subscription, you can organize the site by putting them into your tags that you have created.
 
All Stories in Google Reader
 
The All Items displays just that, all items. It is a conglomeration of stories from all of the different pages, sorted by date. As you scroll through the list, each item will be marked as read. As the stories are read you have the option to star the article, share it with other users, mark it unread, or add a tag to it. These options help you keep content easily available that you would like to view again in the future. There is also a search feature that allows you to search through all of the content received through your feeds. There are also options to change the sorting order and the view.
One interesting part is the Trends view. This will display statistics of the number of stories read per day, time of day and day of the week. This will also show how many pieces of content you have read for each subscription, the average number of posts per day of each subscription, the number of total Google Reader subscribers, and the keywords you have tagged your content with. While this may not seem like a very useful feature at first, it can be useful to see what sites you read the most content from, use it to trim down your reading list by removing sites that are no longer updating or you are no longer interested in. It's also interesting to see how many items you actually read.
 
Google Reader Trends
 
There are many other features available in Reader including a Bookmark Button shortcut which allows you to drag a link to the toolbar button to automatically add it to Reader, Discovery of other content related to pages you're already subscribed to, a mobile version, and the ability to easily share and find your favorite content.
If you've been looking for a feed reader or have been using one for a while and you're looking for a new one, I would highly recommend Google Reader.
Let me know if you use Reader and what you think of it.