Surf’s Up, as published in the St. John's Telegram on Thursday, July 22, 2010. Click here to read more Surf's Up.]
Sometimes you know something so well that you can’t imagine it could possibly be different. But when you’re shown a new way, and the benefits are instantly obvious, it can be a bit thrilling.
We’re all creatures of habit, but our online patterns are hardly cemented. You may prefer, say, the same type of breakfast cereal through your life, but your online preferences are going to change sooner or later. (Still using Alta Vista to look stuff up?)
A few weeks ago, my eyes were pointed to a service that has breathed new life into a service I’ve been using for years, and for which I now have a whole new appreciation.
I’ve been using Google Reader for the better part of five years, and was practically an apostle for it after I first set it up. Reader is what’s called an aggregator, and it was the first tool that managed my RSS feeds that was a genuine pleasure to have.
RSS – really simple syndication, to use one definition – is a workhorse of the web, pushing out content to the people who want updates. It’s not obvious, but it’s integral to many news sites, but is used for many other applications, from news releases to newsletters to personal sites.
Google Reader allowed me to synthesize all that data into one central place. Best, I could toggle to it while using other Google apps, like Gmail or the family calendar.
The hitch? Well, being a creature of habit, I got accustomed to the same look and feel … and got, well, a little bored. I just haven’t been using it nearly as much as I first did.
Enter Feedly, which takes your Google Reader feeds and hands it back to you, looking fantastic.
“A fun, magazine-like start page” is how Feedly pitches itself in bold print, to visitors who’ve come to kick the tires. Fair description, to say the least.
Like a good magazine, Feedly knows that design is as important as the content itself. Thus, some images are given a notable display, the fonts are clean and sharp, and columns are put to sharp use. It’s a lesson that makes perfect sense to me, almost three decades since I first learned the basics of composing a page and falling in love with typography, and learned that how something is presented is absolutely key to how it is understood.
After a quick install, my categories all moved over, including all my feeds and preferences. But this is no duplication: it’s a completely new, and better experience
In an instant, Feedly made skimming through my daily news diet a pleasure.
So, if you don’t use Google Reader (or Feedly), you might be scratching you head, and wondering if you’re missing something. Bottom line: you are.
I’d recommend giving Feedly a shot. After all, if you’re reading a column about online culture, and have made it this far, I bet you spend enough time looking at screens that you could use some help organizing things.
So, let’s say your interests include headlines about Boston’s sports teams; releases from your alma mater; newsletters from the company that handles your investments; social-media mentions of the company where you work; a few political blogs; and, um, reports about your favourite rock band.
Or, maybe you’re into mountain climbing, hand-crafted sweaters, Italian football stars and gossip magazines.
It doesn’t matter. The range of interests is enormous, and can be as customizable and unique as you are.
Like something you see? Copy and paste the URL into a field to add it to your menu. Set it up in a particular category that you can name and edit. Twitter feeds, by the way, are easy to add, and exploring for new content is a slice.
Give it a shot. I hope you get half as excited as I am.
Elsewhere this week
Netflix comes to Canada
Well, not yet. But soon, and how, this is going to mean something major for countless thousands of Canadian movie-watchers, not to mention the video-rental stores that have relied on their business. Netflix has built a solid business model south of the border since the late 1990s with movies-by-mail, but everybody is more excited about where their business is rapidly going: online. Indeed, the Canadian business will exclusively offer on-demand content, particularly movies and TV shows, almost certainly at a flat rate like 10 bucks a month. Couch potatoes, you’ve been warned.