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Control panel: Start practicing social media management by organizing your RSS feeds
December 2008

Once you get onto the RSS bandwagon, you’ll very quickly find that the number of feeds you have signed up for has grown unmanageable. You’ll need to reestablish some order, fast, or you’ll find yourself spending far too much time reading your alerts. We’re going to push the concept of “design” for this issue of ContentWise, and talk here about organizing your RSS feeds.

Choose the right reader

Before you even begin signing up for RSS feeds, it’s a good idea to check out the options you have for readers. These vary according to what browser you use and what features you want beyond the basic ability to create folders.

- Desktop readers such as NewsGator’s FeedDemon (for Windows) and NetNewsWire (for the Mac) are programs installed on your computer. They are not portable, so if you often switch between a laptop and a desktop, you may not want to use one. Some people (mostly early adopters) prefer their desktop-based RSS readers for their filtering capabilities, but mainly these programs are used by employees at companies whose firewalls make the dynamic updating from Web-based readers impracticable. Offline readers are faster than online ones, and of course you can con­tinue to read your downloaded feeds offline; you can also set feeds to update at differing intervals.

- Browser-based readers such as Firefox Brief or Safari’s integrated RSS reader can be updated more dynamically than desktop readers can, yet are usually more fully featured than Web-based readers. However, they are tied to or fully integrated into the browser’s book­marking, making this option another that is difficult for those who switch machines.

- Web-based readers such as Google Reader and Bloglines (and portal pages such as iGoogle, My Yahoo, and My AOL) are the most portable, since they can be accessed from anywhere. But until recently, these readers have not been as fully fea­tured as the other choices, offering few or no filtering options and less flexibility in folder organization. Some extension pro­grams such as Wizz RSS and AideRSS serve to pre-filter RSS feeds before they are received by a reader, which helps to bridge the functionality gap. And Google Reader keeps adding tools all the time. The speed of a Web-based reader will be subject to the same limitations as your Internet connection.

Organize by priority, not by category
If there’s one thing that people who have subscribed to hundreds of feeds (yes, hundreds) have learned, it’s that organizing folders by category does not work. What happens is that you end up with 20 or 30 or more folders, each of which you have to open, scan for relevant updates, and get sucked into.

Much better is to have four or five folders, tops, organized by priority. Put all the feeds you read daily into a Daily folder. Put others into Weekly, Monthly, and If I Have Time. Name them however you like, but make sure the organization is by how frequently you read a given feed. (Click here to read how Matt Wood of 43 Folders does it.)

Then, use a tagging feature (most readers have them) to help group your feeds within those categories if you really want to do that, or simply use the search function (most have this, too) to find relevant content.

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