Saturday, May 3, 2008

Reader Tip

I spend most of my online time in Google Reader (or links followed from it). It's only taken about 6 months to become a complete addict (not necessarily of reader, but rss/atom in general). My feed list is currently sitting just under 200, and I go through all of my feeds religiously. If there's something I want to come back to, I star it, but at the end of any given day, I have no unread items (approx. 3-4 hundred items/day). Recently, I've been thinking about changing things up a little. There are plenty of feeds out there which I simply can't keep up with. For example, I used to subscribe to the main Digg feed, but couldn't keep up. To manage that, I just subscribed to the subcategories I was interested in. But then I found Mixx and LinkRiver, and am getting a little overwhelmed.

There was a post recently over at ReadWriteWeb with tips for feed reading. The number one tip was to oversubscribe. At the time I didn't think that was for me. But now I'm starting to think it'd be ok to not read all of my feeds. Except, some of my feeds I want to see every item from (basically all the feeds I have before adding mixx and linkriver). I knew in google reader you could specify what tag to start from. So I thought I'd make a new tag, 'start' with all of my normal feeds in it, to keep up with, and a tag 'firehose' to browse through when I get time, but not stress about reading.

The google reader 'Manage Subscriptions' interface is pretty friendly, letting you change tags and remove feeds, and quickly find feeds you are looking for. So I made a tag 'start', clicked 'select all feeds', and then under 'More Actions' chose 'add label' -> 'start'. Wait for it... wait for it... 'Ooops, an error has occurred. Please try again in a few seconds.' in the standard red bar across the top. Ok... well, trying again didn't seem to help.

Luckily, last night I'd decided to play around with how reader handles import/export of OPML files. Recall that OPML files are for outlines (and I guess are the typical way feed lists are stored), so they have a pretty obvious nested structure, and the file you'll get by exporting your feeds from reader is pretty easy to understand. There are <outline> elements that have just a title and name attribute, and these are the folders, and then within them are <outline> elements with feed information (name, url...). Let me distinguish these by saying 'folder' elements, and 'feed' elements. So here's what I found about importing:
  • If a feed element is for a feed that you are already subscribed to, then the feed simply picks up a new tag for the folder element it lies in from the OPML file. So your feed now has multiple tags and will show up in multiple folders, if it didn't already.
  • If a folder element is the same as an existing folder you have, the feeds will simply be added to that folder. That is, you won't end up with two folders with the same name or anything.
  • If your OPML file has deeper nesting than folder/feed (which is what you get from a reader export, but not what you'd expect the generality of an outline to be capable of), the folders get flattened. For example, if your file has a folder element 'folder' with folder elements 'first' and 'second', which themselves just have feed elements, then in reader you will see 3 new folders: 'folder', 'first', and 'second', and feeds from the sub-folders will show up in both 'folder' and whatever sub-folder they are part of.

This seemed to be the setup I needed to do what I want: add a tag 'start' to all of my existing feeds. I exported my feeds to an OPML file and fired up my editor. Surrounding basically my whole file (that is, surrounding all of the <outline> elements) I added a new <outline> element, with attributes 'title' and 'text' both set to 'start'. Back in reader, I then told it to import this file. A short pause, and it said everything had gone through. Back in my feed list, I now have a 'start' folder in addition to all of the other folders I already had. All of my feeds show up in two places (items only get counted once, as it should be), so I can see what folder has how many items, and I can scroll through the items just as if I was looking at 'All Items'. But now I can go back and add feeds for things like mixx, linkriver, fark... (feeds with overwhelming numbers of items), tag them as 'firehose', and not feel bad if I don't get to them all.

[Damn, the list messes up my pretty left-hand borders again. I guess I'll have to mess about with some more css some time soon. Update (12 May 2008): I just put a span around everything. I should see if I can do that in my template, to save a step.]

No comments: