This week, I was going to address advanced search syntax and additional search databases in the next installment of the Research 101 series.  But in light of the fact that July 1st is the shutdown of one of the most popular RSS readers, I thought it more appropriate to first cover the use of RSS feeds as a continuation of last week’s installment on customizing your news.  (Even for those of you who have sworn off Google).

By now, if you’ve already been using Google Reader to view your RSS feeds, you’ve no doubt selected a replacement reader program and have exported all your feeds.  But I imagine that there are also some who have never thought to make use of RSS readers to maximize your news.  So in today’s installation of the Research 101 series, I will offer a short review of some of the most popular reader programs and how to make RSS feeds part of your research arsenal.

An Introduction

If you’ve never used RSS feeds before, let’s start with a super quick primer:  RSS (short for really simple syndication, previously rich site summary) is just a simple method used for aggregating content and displaying it on other sites.  Users often take advantage of RSS feeds to provide automated content for their websites, or to provide feeds of their own content to others’ websites.

In the instance of research, I am going to describe how it can be used to house all your news in one place, in an organized and efficient manner.  Think of it in the sense of collecting all of the articles from all the top blogs and websites you visit, and displaying them all on one web page.  With categories.

An RSS reader program serves as the mechanism to receive, organize and display the feeds that you select.

Getting Started

Before you start using an RSS reader, think about the news you’ll want to receive.  Once you do select a reader, you’ll be prompted to enter the sources the reader should retrieve.  So it might be helpful to consider those sources in advance.  Think about the type of research you’ll be doing.  If you’ll be covering certain news topics, look up some of the best sources of that information.  If you plan to watchdog what certain companies are doing in politics, then business news and journals might interest you.  If you want to keep an eye on what left-wing groups are writing about, make a note of their top blogs and websites.  Thinking ahead about how you intend to use the news you collect will help you to organize all of it as you set up your reader.  This will also help you in deciding which reader is the best selection for your needs.

Setting Up Your Reader

Before I get into the reviews of different readers, I’ll show you an example of how one of the popular reader programs works so that you can get a good sense of what to look for in whichever reader you select.

After trying out a variety of different readers, I recently decided upon Feedly for my own use (I was one of those Google Reader users).

Feedly provides all the capabilities I need in a simple and easy to use interface, and requires no installation of applications.  You can customize the views to display just the titles/headlines, much like Gmail displays emails, or thumbnails and summaries in small and larger sizes.  In this example, I’ve selected the title display.

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You’ll see that I’d set up categories on the left; I can either view my feeds by category, or I can view all the news together.

When you are setting up your feeds and categories, again, think about how you’re going to use your content.  It may make sense to drill down further and create sub-categories that allow you to get specifically to content that is relevant to your research topic at hand.

Here’s how it works in the Feedly reader.

Click on the “Add Content” link, and you will be prompted to enter a URL, title or topic – Feedly will search for available sources that meet your criteria.  Or, you can browse through Feedly categories on the left, below the search box.

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Once you’ve made your selection, click on “add to my feedly” and it will prompt you to assign a category.  You can change the title of the source to whatever is most meaningful to you.

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I have built many sub-categories in my reader to help make research on certain topics easier for me.

For instance, I often need to be on the lookout for local news stories, rather than just national news.  So when setting up my RSS feeds, I selected local news outlets in particular states and regions and created categories for those so that I can drill down more easily if and when needed.

Selecting local sources was part of my preliminary due diligence before I set up my reader.  You can visit a site such as Yahoo’s directory of newspapers, where you can drill down by region and state to see available local news sources.  Then enter those sources when adding new content to your reader.

Once you’ve clicked into an article, options appear for you to share the item on social media sites, tag it, or save for later.  Tags are an additional way to be able to drill down and search for that content when doing research.

Once you have your collection of feeds established, you can use your reader as a one-stop location to retrieve all the blogs and news you want to read at whatever intervals you like.

Feedly is particularly easy to use, allows for creation of categories and customized source titles, as well as customized view formats, themes and other preferences.  You can also sort by oldest or newest, and mark items as read and unread, much like you would email.

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Reviews of RSS Readers

We’ve covered Feedly above, so…what else is out there?

Selecting a reader will boil down to what your preferences and needs are.  But I’ve selected a handful of the most popular and provided quick reviews of each.  The list is not by any means all inclusive, but it gives you a good idea of what is out there.  I haven’t tried all of them myself, so for those I haven’t actually used, I link you to a review for each.

Keep in mind, you might choose to work on different devices – for instance, a laptop and a mobile phone.  If you plan to do so, try to select a reader(s) that can synch with your RSS feeds on your other devices.

The Old Reader

Cost: Free

Similar to Feedly, although there aren’t suggested categories as Feedly displays.  The remainder of the functionality works much the same as Feedly’s.  You will need to know the URL of the sources to which you want to subscribe, as it doesn’t provide a list of suggested sources when searching (at least it didn’t for me while I was using it).  One helpful plus though is that it shows which stories/sources are trending.  It also allows you to like and share particular items and integrates social media.

Detailed Review

Read more or try it out at The Old Reader website.

Flipboard

Cost: Free

This is a nice app if you’re using a smartphone or tablet.  But if you’re making it part of your daily research and writing activity, you’re likely to need something more of a laptop or desktop, and therefore it’s not as much help to you, as it’s a mobile app.  If you only need to browse on your mobile device, it’s got nice visual features – the content is displayed in magazine format, and you simply flip the pages as such by swiping the interface.  It’s more heavily focused on the magazine and social aspect of content feeds, rather than a straight RSS feed reader, in that it allows you to invite contributors to curate content and you can integrate Facebook and Twitter feeds as well.

Detailed Review

Read more or try it out at the Flipboard website.

 

AOL Reader

Cost: Free

Review

Website

 

Digg Reader

Cost: Free

Review

Website

 

FeedBin

Cost: $3/month

Review

Website

 

Feed Demon

Cost: Free for basic reader, works only as a desktop client.  Premium version is available for $19.95/month.

Review

Website

 

Feed Wrangler

Cost: $19/year (about $1.50/month)

Review

Website

 

Mr Reader (iPad app)

Cost: $3.99 app download

Review

Website (iPad app store)

 

As I indicated, this list is not all inclusive.  There are many others out there, and your choice really depends not only on the devices you’ll be using, but on how you’ll choose to use your RSS feeds.  But when carefully selected, curated and organized, RSS feeds can be a very helpful tool in your overall research kit.

Next up in the Research 101 series, we will move on to advanced search syntax and will start getting into some of the other databases available to you for more specific types of research, such as locating organizations’ financial records.

Previously in the “Research 101 series:

Research 101 (Part 2): Customizing Your News

Research 101: Knowing Where to Start