Sometimes as a blogger you don’t want to create a new entry just to report an interesting article you found. (Some people use del.icio.us links for this purpose, but I find that to be less than user-friendly.) A much nicer solution is to provide a Reading List of sorts, similar to the point of a blogroll, but at an item level. The ideal Reading List would directly include the content to be read, rather than just a link to it, and be published in Atom or RSS for the convenience of your audience.
In this article I’ll show you how to use Google Reader and FeedBurner to manage a reading list for your audience.
Step 1: Sharing Items in Google Reader
Google Reader has a nice feature which allows you to share items you read via two mechanisms:
- When you read an item from somebody’s feed that you think others will be interested in, just click the “share” icon at the bottom of the item’s display. This is easy enough if you will only ever have one shared reading list. If there’s a chance you might want to have more than one split out by topic, this isn’t the route to take.
- Tag (or label) the item with a certain label you’ll use for shared items on a certain topic. I use “inkblots-reading” for just that purpose. If you go this route, go to Settings –> Tags and toggle “not shared” to “public” on that tag.
Now that you are sharing some items of interest, Reader will publish them for you in various formats. Some of these aren’t well documented, so you have to be ready for a bit of URL tweaking to get at the format you need.
Using option 1, you get an HTML page that anyone can view. Go to Reader’s homepage and click “Shared Items” in the left menu. You’ll get a link to the HTML page, like this one:
Note that the long number in the URL above is my personal Google Reader id. When you’re doing the same thing, you’ll have a different number.
Using option 2 that shares a specific label, you can click the “view public page” link by the tag to get a URL like this one:
Step 2: Get the Atom feed of your shared items
Now that you have some items shared via Google Reader, you don’t have to settle for a HTML web page to read them. A much better mechanism for your audience will be to distribute them as a Reading List using Atom or RSS.
If you want to publish a Reading List of all shared items, then click “Shared Items” in Reader’s left menu and look for the feed icon and link at the top. That’s an Atom feed that is composed of your shared items, dated according to when you decided to share each one.
If you want to publish a Reading List of only a certain tag, that URL is a little harder to find. The easiest way is to go the HTML page (via the “view public page” link by the tag name under Settings–>Tags) and then view the source of the page. Look for a
<link xhref=" ... " type="application/atom+xml" id="auto-discovery" rel="alternate"> tag in the source. It will have the URL for the Atom feed of just your shared items with that tag. For example, here is the URL for everything I have tagged “inkblots-reading”:
Congratulations: You have a Reading List that others can subscribe to. Technically, you can stop here and just give out that URL. But if you do, you have several problems:
- You have no way to track statistics of how your Reading List is used.
- You have no way to invite traffic back to your own site.
- The feed isn’t browser-friendly.
- The feed title isn’t customizable.
- You have a URL that nobody (including you) will ever remember.
Time to do a little cosmetic surgery. This is where FeedBurner comes in handy.
If you don’t have a FeedBurner account yet, now is the time to get one.At the FeedBurner site, use the Atom URL taken from Google Reader to create a new FeedBurner feed.
- FeedBurner: Optimize
Use the Optimize tab to tweak a ton of settings for your Reading List.Enable the “Title/Description Burner” so that you can provide a much nicer title than the automatic one generated by Google Reader. I replaced the default “‘inkblots-reading’ via mwoodman in Google Reader” with “The inkBlots Reading List”. You can also provide a description which shows the purpose of the feed. For example, I used: “Hand-picked items of interest in the realm of RSS, Atom, and technology in general. Courtesy of inkBlots (http://inkblots.markwoodman.com)”Activate the “Feed Image Burner” so that the Reading List feed’s image is one of your own, which can include a link to your site or to the HTML version generated by Google Reader.Use “Browser Friendly” to make it look great in a browser and give your audience multiple ways of subscribing directly from the feed itself. I also suggest taking advantage of the Personal Message option to tell viewers the purpose of the list.Activate “Smart Feed” so that FeedBurner can switch the format from Atom to RSS if the requesting feed reader doesn’t like Atom for some reason.
Enable “Feed Flare” to add interactive links at the bottom of each item. Feed Flare units exist for Digg, technorati, comments, and tons of other uses. I created my own FeedFlare unit to include a “Read the latest on inkBlots” link at the bottom of each item. This is an easy way to invite traffic back to your site without mangling the integrity of the feed items you are sharing in your Reading List.
- FeedBurner: PublicizeThe Publicize tab in FeedBurner has a couple of options you’ll want to take advantage of.Turn on “PingShot” so that various feed search engines will be notified when your Reading List is updated. FeedBurner will check your shared items Atom feed for updates every 30 minutes. When new items are detected, FeedBurner will turn around and ping the various services on your behalf.“Email Subscriptions.” Yeah, I hate to mention this option, but you might as well turn it on. We need to be inclusive of our non-feedy friends.
Step 4: Tell the World, Share Your List
Congratulations! Now you have a Reading List that looks and smells like something created with some thought and consideration behind it. Here’s how mine looks: