If you’ve been around social media for more than a few days, you probably subscribe to a handful (or more) RSS feeds. What was originally an inside scoop for geeks who read those crazy, senseless diary things called blogs, has turned out to be the single-most effective technology in enhancing people’s productivity the Web 2.0 world has given us. RSS means you can surf all or part of the web you want to see in a fraction of the time.
I’m constantly asked what my favorite feed reader is. I’ve experimented with a half dozen or so but keep coming back to the old standard — Google Reader. It’s simple, intuitive, organized and efficient. But there are a couple of features to Google Reader many people either don’t know are there, forget about or simply don’t use enough. One such feature is the trends tab, shown below circled in red.
What your Google Reader trends tell you is pretty self-explanatory, though consider that most of the data is generated from the previous 30 days. The above-the-fold data you see at the top of the page shows you a display of the number of posts versus the number you’ve read in each of those days. As you can tell from mine, I actually read only a fraction of what I subscribe to. As you can see, I subscribe to 317 different feeds, only a few of which are feeds for clients or other projects that I wouldn’t subscribe to otherwise. I’ve read only 327 items from those feeds in the last 30 days. Those feeds produce between 500-600 posts per day during the week. (Click on any remaining graphic to see a larger version.)
What you can gather from these numbers is, in a general sense, how much of what you think you read, you actually read. I happen to subscribe to many news feeds and search terms as RSS feeds in my reader that produce many results each day. I subscribe so that I can search those posts when I need them. (Searching your feeds is another feature many people forget about, by the way. That search box at the top isn’t for the web, but your Google Reader subscriptions.) Taking that into consideration, you can see that I don’t mind not reading the vast majority of what I subscribe to. If I were trying to be more efficient with my reading and didn’t need those search-able feeds, I could improve my posted-to-read ratio.
Below the main graphic, you get some very useful information. To the left of the middle of the page is a list of the feeds you access most often and what percentage of their total posts you read. As you can see, this top-10 list reveals what I read the most in terms of number read. It appears I read about half of what Chris Brogan posts and read him often. The Google Alerts results for a search of my name are second (am I vain or protective of my personal brand … or both?). I read a higher percentage of what Valeria Maltoni, Todd Defren and Amber Naslund write, but not as many as Brogan. Of course, none of them post as frequently as Chris does, but, with apologies to him, perhaps that’s an argument for quality over quantity.
Anecdotally, Zen Habits is my “For Me” blog. Leo Babauta’s advice is always sound and helps bring a bit of calm to me. Accidental Hedonist is a fantastic food and spirits blog written by Kate Hopkins. I started reading it for my spirits clients. I now read it for myself because Kate is an excellent writer and writes fantastic pieces.
You can also see the feeds you most frequently star items from, share with others, email to friends and read on a mobile device. I share items sometimes, but don’t really use the other mechanisms much.
To the right of that chart is perhaps the one I find most useful. Subscription trends shows you tabs of the feeds that are most frequently updated, inactive and most obscure, meaning the ones the fewest people subscribe to. (My Google Alerts feed for my name is pretty obscure. Heh.)
But the inactives tab is the sweet spot. I click on it frequently to unsubscribe from feeds that haven’t been updated in some time. As you can see from the graphic, I don’t unsubscribe to all the non-updated feeds. The Social Media Release site/page is relevant to me. If those running it ever update it, I’ll want to know. Matt Winn’s blog hasn’t been updated in almost a year. Matt’s a VC guy here in Louisville who is smart as hell and has a lot to say. I have faith he’ll be back. The others on the list I have reason to hold on to a bit longer for one reason or another.
The point is, you can cull your lists by getting rid of those not updated frequently, which you wouldn’t really notice if the trending information wasn’t available.
You’ll notice you can expand the lists to 20 or even 40 entries. It makes organizing and editing your feeds pretty efficient.
At the bottom of the Trends page, you see a list of your Google friend’s trends. You see who shares most frequently and who has the most subscribers to their shared lists (most popular). The other side of the page shows a tag cloud displaying the most populated of your folders/categories in Google Reader with darker indications of words indicating you read those more than others.
While it tempts me to throw out a number of uses for your Reader trends, I’d rather open it up and see what you think its uses are. How does this information help you manage your feeds? How can these statistics help you draw insights from feeds you monitor for your business or your clients? (PR folks ought to see some uses here!) Give it some thought and let us know what you can or do use Google Reader trends for. Please share in the comments.
And if you’re not using Google Reader for your RSS feeds, what are you using and can you pull these types of insights from your reader? I didn’t dive in to others to see if there’s something better out there. If there is, please share and tell us what you think of that option. I’m diving into Fever right now (see TechCrunch article below) and will report back as well.
Related articles by Zemanta and Jason Falls
- Fever, A Self-Hosted Feed Reader, Heats Up Your RSS Subscriptions (techcrunch.com)
- Speeding Up RSS (techcrunch.com)
- How to connect Google Reader and Evernote (enquiringmimes.com)
- How to search your Twitter DMs with Google Reader (Chris Penn)