Wednesday, November 17, 2010

WotW: Feed me... why you should (and shouldn't) use a feed reader

Happy Wednesday and thanks for joining me for today's segment of Feed Me month(ish). I say ish because, based on feedback, I'm extending Feed Me month to answer your questions and befuddlements. So, we'll continue Feed Me month until I run out of information to share. :) If you have questions or anything just doesn't make sense, please feel free to ask!

We started out Feed Me month with the basics of RSS and Feedburner and last week I (hopefully) entertained you with Goldilu and the Three Feed Readers, a tale about finding a happily-ever-after feed reader. Today I'd like to talk a little bit more about the relationship between feeds, feed readers, and feed generators/managers (like Feedburner) and share three reasons why you should use a feed reader... and three reasons why you shouldn't.

Serving up a feed
When it comes to feeds, the web works kind of like a restaurant. Why eat out? To save yourself from having to prepare the meal yourself. Why use a feed reader? To save the time/energy of going to each of the 100+ blogs or websites you follow (if you're a blog addict like me who actually follows that many blogs :).

When you eat at home, you are both the cook and the waiter, preparing the food and bringing it to the table to eat. When you go out to eat, however, you relax in one spot and let other people do the work. The waiter comes and takes your order -- whatever you want from the menu. The cook, upon receiving your order from your waiter, prepares your order and presents it nicely on a plate. Then the waiter brings your order to you at your table and you enjoy your meal. The person at the next table could have ordered the exact same menu items that you did and have a different waiter, but both waiters would bring the two of you separate but identical plates at your individual tables.

A web feed goes through the same type of process as your food at a restaurant. At your "web cafe," your feed reader (such as Google Reader) is your waiter -- it takes your order, called a subscription, and brings you what you ordered, saving you the time and energy of personally visiting each of those blogs every day.  Your feed-reader-waiter may have certain perks, like delivering the feed faster or allowing you to organize your subscriptions differently, but each reader delivers the same feed cuisine.

Feedburner (or another feed generator, like the one built into your blogging platform) is the cook -- it prepares (or burns... ha!) the feed for your and your readers' dining pleasure. Different customers in the restaurant have different waiters, just like different readers will use different feed readers. And even though there may be a different cook in the kitchen on a different night, all of the cooks will deliver up the same basic entree, just like Feedburner and your built-in feed generator deliver the same basic feed. (Like we talked about here, the main benefit of using Feedburner over your built-in and automatic feed generator is the information that Feedburner can provide you about your readers.)

As a blog author, you use Feedburner (or the built-in feed generator) and don the chef's hat, sending your blog's specific cuisine to your readers in a "plated" feed via their feed-reader-waiters. (See the first post in the Feed Me series for the basics of Feedburner.)

As a blog reader, you can use Google Reader or another feed reader to wait on you blog-hand and foot, bringing you the updates from each and every blog you request -- ordering one of everything on the menu, if you feel like it.

In the upcoming weeks, I'll explain the basics of my top two feed readers, Google Reader and Feedly, but to finish out today's post, I want to share my reasons why you should and shouldn't use a feed reader. Actually, I think that everyone should use a feed reader, so these reasons are why you should use a feed reader but then also click out of it on occasion.  

(If you're anxious to get started with Google Reader and/or Feedly, you can start with the Google Reader help articles here and the Feedly introductory tutorial here. And then let me know if you have questions so I can answer them the next two weeks. :)

You should use a feed reader if...
  1. You read more than 5 blogs regularly or spend more than 30 minutes per day blog-surfing at regular blogs. Plain and simple, having a feed reader bring you all the updates from the blogs or other sources that you visit will save you time. In your feed reader, you can have your favorite cooking blog's posts right there next to your CNN headlines, saving you the time and clicks to visit each site personally. When there is something new, your feed reader tells you so you don't have to visit the site to see that there's no new posts.
  2. You're only going to read some of the posts from those sites that post many updates in a day. I subscribe to a couponingCraftGossip for example.
  3. You're a blogger. All bloggers should use a feed reader to subscribe to their own blog's feed! (in my opinion, of course) Remember how we talked about wysinwyrg (what you see is not what your readers get) in this post a couple months ago? A large portion of your readers likely use a feed reader, so to cover all your wysinwyrg bases and be in your readers' shoes as much as possible, subscribe to your own blog feed. There are occasional small differences between feed readers (text formatting/size, picture alignment), but nothing as major as the differences between browsers, so don't stress about which reader to use too much.
You should click out of your feed reader if...
  1. You leave comments (like you should...). We all love comments, right? So improve your comment karma and click out of your reader to share some comment-love and contribute to the conversations that happen in the comments section.
  2. You want to get to know the blogger. I think most of us blog to connect with the world, no matter what we blog about. I love benefiting from the collective creativity of the blogging world, but even more than that I *love* making blog friends. Part of building that friendship comes from comments (see #1) and regular reading, and part of the friendship also comes from getting to know the blogger him- or herself. Blogs are home for bloggers, so visit bloggers at home to get to know them better through their blog designs and the information in their sidebars.
  3. You want to support the blogger and his/her sponsors. More and more blogs are gaining sponsors and many bloggers run their own online stores through Etsy and other online marketplaces. While many blogs include sponsor information in the posts that you see in your reader, most blogs feature all of their sponsors prominently in a sidebar. For many bloggers, the sponsorships and product sales are what allow them to keep blogging at the frequency and quality that you (and I) love. So click over occasionally and, if you see a store or sponsor that interests you, go visit them. 
Questions? Concerns? Disagreements? Leave me a comment! I always reply to questions individually so long as your email address is in your Blogger profile.

Until next week,

Up next week: The basics of Google Reader
And after that: Getting started with Feedly

Lu (or Lorene if you prefer) is the mom of one squirmy boy and the wife of a singing and dancing elementary teacher. She is the proud author of this weekly Wednesdays on the Web (WotW) segment here on Housewife Eclectic and spends the other days of the week blogging about crafts and whatever else comes up at just Lu.
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