How you SHOULD be reading your blogs.

Standard Feed IconHow do you read your blogs? Do you have a list of bookmarks that you check each time you’re in front of your computer? Do you use somebody else’s handy sidebar list that’s organized by the most recent update? Do you (god forbid) google each site you want to check and use their results to take you where you need to go? Do you put a drunk monkey in front of your keyboard and let him type away until something interesting appears? Each of these involves some varying level of tedium (although the monkey may be mildly entertaining until the poop-flinging begins). THERE IS A BETTER WAY.

Feed Readers. I’ve posted about them before. For those of you who already use a feed reader to keep track of blogs, news, and pretty much any content posted on the web that interests you, disregard this post. Hopefully this is most of you. For those of you who don’t, let me encourage you again to give them a try. Google Reader and Bloglines are both fine readers. If you like those and want to experiment, there are a number of other web-based feed readers, as well as many stand-alone readers that you can download and install locally.

What, you might ask, are the benefits?

  • Eliminate Clicks – Say you have 15 blogs like this one that you check every day (gosh, I’m honored!). If those blogs are like this one, they only update (at best) once a week or so. So that’s 6 useless clicks per blog (90 for all 15 blogs, if you’re keeping track) per week. Now use a newsreader. Chances are at least one of your 15 blogs was updated on any given day. Every time you visit your newsreader, you’re saving yourself time (your mouse-hand will also thank you for eliminating the repetitive stress of all those clicks)!
  • YOU are in Control (i.e., Why Feed Readers are Superior to Mailing Lists) – Some blogs allow you to receive updates via email (although this has become more rare with the explosion of RSS feeds). With a feed reader, you don’t have to expose your email address to anybody. You don’t have to give your email address to a shady web site owner (like me!), exposing yourself to spam. You don’t have to rely on anybody to take you off the list. If you want to stop reading the feed, remove it from your reader and you’re done!
  • Customize Your Reading – Use your feed reader to create “mini publications” for yourself. I roughly organize my feeds into categories by topic: web design, friends’ blogs, comics (gotta have the daily Dilbert), Flickr photos, etc.
  • Feeds for Everyone – There are feeds out there for just about everything you could want to follow on the Web. For instance, did you know that there is an RSS feed for your Flickr photostream? I follow my friends photostreams (public photos only, unfortunately) so I know when there’s a new photo out there by one of my talented friends like Shannon or Lou Ann.
  • It’s so Easy – Wonder if a site has a feed? The answer is probably ‘Yes’. Look for the feed icon that accompanies this post (or some variation thereof). The orange icon is pretty standard, but some sites use custom colors.

I would be remiss if I did not present the one major drawback to the convenience of using a feed reader. It’s SO easy that you may find yourself subscribing to more and more content on the Web. Your feeds can eventually become like those magazines you subscribe to that lay around your house waiting to be read. But at least on the Web it’s free!

There are plenty of other reasons to use a feed reader, not the least of which is “Pat told me to.” So what is your current procedure for reading blogs? Would you consider a feed reader? If I push it any more will you stop reading THIS blog?

Finish this sentence.

“I would blog more often if. . . ”

I found myself thinking today about how I’ve been relatively active on this blog for the past month or two. Dedicated bloggers post at least several times a week, and those who do it professionally post at least once a day, and often even more frequently.

What really sparked this train of thought was something I saw at the conference I’m attending this week. It wasn’t one of the interesting presentations, but rather what a participant was doing during one of the duller moments. She was furiously tapping away at her spiffy iPhone. Wow, I thought. If I just had one of those, I could use my “spare” time to log on and spout even more nonsense here.

Even better, if I had one of those I wouldn’t have to go down to my freezing basement to use the computer so that I could spout said nonsense. Never mind the $500 price tag and the roughly $60/month that’s required for the voice/data plan. Bah.

So what would motivate YOU to post more often?

Soliciting Comments: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows US CoverFor anybody who fears spoilers – FEAR NOT! This post contains no spoilers. The comments, however, probably do (did I just guarantee that this post will sit at zero comments forever?). Avoid the comments if you haven’t read the book. For those of you who don’t want to read the longish post below, jump straight to the comments to discuss the book. (Or visit the temporarily resurrected Book Club if you want a more robust way to thread your discussion).

It’s been nearly a week and a half since the final installment of the Harry Potter series hit the shelves. If you’re a Harry Potter fan and you haven’t finished the book yet, I can fairly confidently say one of two things about you:

  1. You were out of the countryor
  2. You are a SLACKER.

Seriously. Read the book already. I picked up our copy on the morning of July 21. Kate (who will no doubt be grumpy that I’m making this bit of information available on the Internet) finished it at 4AM on July 22nd. That’s approximately 17 hours after getting the book. That’s COMMITMENT, people! I, after waiting for Kate to finish, took a leisurely 36 hours, give or take, to finish.

I’m not a book critic. I can’t speak to the Deathly Hallows’ place in the grand scheme of literary achievement. It’s doubtful I will find any hidden meaning, symbolism, or cleverly mythological or literary references that Rowling may have included. All I know is that it was a damn fun read.

I think that the reason that the book was so engrossing was that it was the culmination of 6 books of buildup. And for me, the real payoff wasn’t the advancement and resolution of the plot as much as it was seeing the characters that Rowling has so painstakingly built from the beginning of the series come into their own. In the Deathly Hallows, Rowling continues to build some characters in a manner you’d expect, and then takes others and totally flips them on their head.

The story itself was brilliant, action-packed, with the occasional twist and turn to make sure you’re paying attention. Kate and I were both motivated to return to look up specific scenes in the previous books while reading the Deathly Hallows. And if you haven’t read it, let me say this. Make sure you give yourself a good chunk of uninterrupted time to read the last 150-200 pages, because when things really get moving at that point and you WILL NOT want to put it down.

Naturally there are certain parts of the book that are a bit disappointing. It’s not perfect, but Rowling has completed the series in far more satisfying way than I would have thought possible. I am happy that I can confidently recommend the series as a whole to new readers (are there any actually out there?) and be confident that the ending lives up to the rest of the series.

My main motivation in writing this post was not to proclaim my geekdom to the world (too late), but rather to provide a forum where a smallish group of people could have a discussion about the book. Most of the online discussions on fan sites are so ridiculously large (thousands upon thousands of posts) that I just don’t even want to get involved. I thought that something more intimate would be nice. And it doesn’t get much more intimate than the small number of people who read this blog!

So use the comments section and tell me what you thought about the book. Spoilers will abound in the comments, I’m sure. So don’t read them if you haven’t read the book yet. Also, in case the comments become a little unwieldy for our discussion, I’ve actually temporarily resurrected the Book Club and created a forum for the Deathly Hallows. So lets talk! Lurkers – that means you!