Collecting News for All: How I use Google Reader and Pageflakes

news magazines

Build your own mashup news feeds.

Because of my work, and my belief that information and knowledge should be shared as widely as possible, I collect web news and blog posts into RSS streams that anyone can follow.  Maybe you’d like to do this too; maybe you just want to “follow” my feeds.  In any case, here’s what I do and how I do it.

While I listen to CBC in the car and thereby get pretty much all the typical news I need, I do like to keep up on developments in various fields too.  That’s where the web comes in.

I use Google Reader.  There may be glitzier readers out there, but none can do the very simple thing of composing RSS feeds of articles I’ve tagged and shared.  Google does an excellent job of explaining how sharing works in Reader; I won’t duplicate that here.  Basically, this lets me build my own “custom” feeds out of other, existent feeds.  I guess that makes it a kind of mashup.

The standard RSS feed of shared items contains all your shared items.  Depending on other people’s interests, they might not want to see all those items.  And if you’re like me, and have a reason to show only some items to certain audiences (like, pointing my design students only to my design clippings rather than, say, my atheism clippings), you can use publicly shared tags to create individual feeds by topic.  Here’s what to do.

  1. At the bottom of any article you read in Google Reader is a little menu bar.  The last item in that menu bar is Add Tags.  Clicking that will let you add tags to that article.
  2. Once you’ve saved the tags, click the Share menu item.  This will add that article to your general Shared Items, and also to the collection of items with those tags.
  3. Now go to your Settings and select the Folders and Tags tab.
  4. Find the tags you want to make public and click their checkboxes (on the left side).
  5. From the Change Sharing pulldown menu at the top of the page, select Public.  The status lines for each selected tag will be updated appropriately.
  6. Now each public tag has a view public page link.  Following that link will take you to a public page that contains only the items you shared that have that tag.  Each such public page has a RSS feed.
  7. Copy the RSS feed wherever you want – say, into your favourite aggregator.  Alternatively, you can cut and past a “clipping” (a small box containing the titles of the most recently added items for that tag) to your blog or content management system.

You can see some of the potential when you collect all the various tagged feeds in my pageflakes site.  There are a whole lot of tabs on that site, but if you look at a few of them, you’ll see what I mean.  For example, on my science tab, and under the feeds from my Diigo bookmarks, you’ll see feeds on general science, brain and mind, evolution, health and medicine, and biology.  And in my tech tab, you’ll find feeds on general technology and on transportation.

The point here is that people interested in finding out stuff can go to the specific feed for the topic in which they’re interested.  This is much better than getting just a single, generic feed that might contain only one in ten interesting items.

There may be other ways to do this, but I find this way suits me pretty well; I designed it to fit into my general habits and work.  If you know of other web services or apps that do this sort of thing, please feel free to add a comment with its URL.  I’m always looking for new tools and toys.

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