About two months ago, I signed up for Bloglines. Have you heard of it? You probably have; I'm usually behind the times on most tech stuff. For instance, just last week Kirk and I had a conversation that went something like this:
"Do you think we should get iPods?"
"I don't know. It seems like the thing to do these days, doesn't it? Like, the way to keep up with music?"
"Seems like a lot of work, though, too. Downloading, syncing, memory space."
With no decision made, whatsoever. Oh, except for on Thursday, when Kirk reluctantly shared that he might like an iPod for Christmas . . . only to change his mind by evening's end.
So it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that most of you have been on Bloglines for years. But for me, it's a relatively new thing. (For those who don't know, Bloglines is an online service that tracks all your favorite blogs and news feeds in one place, so you don't have to visit each individual page to find the new content yourself.) And with two months of experience behind me now, I'm ready to share what I've learned.
I signed up for Bloglines for three reasons.
First, now that I have the lovely Mac to go along with our ancient and crotchety PC machine at home, it was becoming quite discomfiting to keep blog bookmarks current on both computers, especially as I continued to discover new blogs. Then factor in the additional challenge of keeping all those bookmarks in the same order on both computers so that my blog-browsing experience was consistent from computer to computer. (Anyone else out there feel strongly about reading blogs in a certain order? And changing this order as your interests change, even in the most subtle of ways?) I so appreciated that a Bloglines account would allow me to access all my favorite blogs in one place through an internet connection, no matter which computer I was using.
Second, I was becoming painfully aware of my world events illiteracy. Perhaps this awareness has heightened since we've gone without a television for six months, although I'll confess that I've never been good about keeping up with the news or reading the printed newspapers, even though I know I should. Or perhaps it was due to my finance class, where I showed up each morning only to realize that I had nothing to contribute to the daily discussion about current events in the financial sector. And with an election year upon us and the ever-increasing interplay of globalization on the economy and our daily lives, it seemed pretty lame to just keep sitting in the dark. I knew all the major news services provided free RSS feeds for their content, and Bloglines was a way for me to easily turn the lights back on.
Third, and probably most importantly, it was becoming just too time-consuming to run through every single bookmark on my toolbar several times each day to discover new content. The seconds it took to click on the bookmark toolbar, scroll to the next blog in line, wait for it to load on my screen, then check for any new content or any new comments, only to repeat the process again and again times the length of my bookmark blogroll really began to add up, especially, again, as I continued to discover new blogs to add to my list. I was becoming increasingly aware of just how much time I was devoting each day to checking my bookmarked blog lists.
Something had to be done. Enter Bloglines. Signup is free; all it requires is an e-mail address (which is your sign-in -- I've never gotten any actual e-mail from them). Once you sign up, you can subscribe to all the major newsfeeds already indexed by them. You can also download a button that gets installed on your bookmarks toolbar; anytime you visit a blog that you want to add to your Bloglines feed, you click on the bookmark button once you are on that blog's page and it automatically gets added to your feed.
The cool thing about Bloglines is how much time it saves. No longer must I visit each and every one of the blogs I love several times a day to check for new content; now I just wait for Bloglines to let me know when my favorite bloggers have posted. So easy!
Having this new system in place after a year and a half on the "old system" has made it easy for me to determine other highs and lows of this new Bloglines life.
First, the lows.
One downside is that when it comes to subscribing to news feeds, it is easy to fall way behind, way fast. I made the mistake of signing up for a variety of news feeds that Bloglines offers when you first open your account: I started with the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN, and the BBC, not to mention Slate, Salon.com, and about ten pages of feeds within the New York Times itself (such as international news, business, technology, art, movies, literature, and opinion). I wanted to get as broad a spectrum of perspectives on the news as I possibly could, since I know each news service has its bias. But all of this was a mistake, at least for me.
Here's how it finally dawned on me: by thinking it through. I mean, news is breaking all the time, right? And in the electronic age, this means that news now gets transmitted instantly. That's why every time I checked my Bloglines account, it seemed my news feeds had ballooned like the Pillsbury Doughboy. And instead of simplifying my life, this part of the Bloglines experience began stressing me out. It made me feel constantly behind and like I was doing something wrong, not to mention revealing that what I really wanted to see when I opened my Bloglines account was not news updates but whether any of my favorite people had written anything new. If you ever take this route and discover yourself feeling the same way, I suggest that you do as I finally did and unsubscribe from those unending strings of feeds. I decided it was more worth it to check the news pages directly, at my own volition, rather than having it foisted on me the several times each day I checked Bloglines for a personal blog fix.
Another downside to the Bloglines life is that blogs can easily become "out of sight, out of mind." Once someone publishes a new post to their blog, a live link for that blog shows up in the left-hand column of your Bloglines page. When you click on that link, a new pane opens in the main section of your Bloglines screen that shows that blog's name and the new post's title. Then the live link in the left-hand column disappears, never to reappear until the blog author posts a new post. Out of sight, out of mind.
This can be particularly disorienting if you have been used to tracking not only new content but also comment threads, especially on blogs where the authors like to leave tagback comments for each commenter. I've had to adopt a hybrid system, making mental notes of the blogs I must remember to revisit once I leave a comment and then scrolling through my (woefully un-updated at this point) blog bookmark list on my hard drive over the next few days to re-check those blogs. This is quite an inefficient system on the back-end of the blog experience that doesn't entirely eradicate the problems at the heart of the first and third reasons I signed up for Bloglines in the first place.
Incidentally, Blogger has recently added the feature to request e-mail updates on comment threads for their blogs, but I've personally found this option cumbersome to my inbox when I've tried it. Another way to address this problem is within Bloglines itself. Bloglines offers the option to either display your entire list of feeds in the left-hand column (highlighting the blogs with new content in bold) or only the list of updated feeds that actually have new content. I've found that I prefer to list only the updated feeds because one of the reasons I subscribe to Bloglines is to save time. I like being able to see which blogs have new content in one split-second glance instead of having to scroll through my pushing-50 list of blog subscriptions to search for the boldfaced ones myself. In other words, I want Bloglines to work for me, not me for it. So for now, to keep my favorite blog authors from disappearing from my peripheral vision, I stick to my hybrid approach.
Another thing to expect when signing on for the Bloglines life is the learning curve of figuring out how you best like to experience each blog on your subscription list, and that's because you always have three options. First, you can choose to expand and read each new post right there on the Bloglines screen. This is great in a pinch and also works well for those blogs that don't foster an emotional connection for you. I tend to read news and business blogs this way because I subscribe to those feeds for information, not personal connection.
But when you do want a personal connection with the person via the look and feel of their blog, you have two choices. As I said earlier, clicking on the live link in the left-hand column will refresh your main Bloglines screen with that blog's name in large type and the new post's title below it. Both the blog's name and the post's title are live links, too. If you click directly on the post's title (instead of the plus sign right beside it, which is what expands the text within the Bloglines pane itself), a new window opens to display the static page for that post on the person's blog. Alternatively, clicking on the large type of the blog's name will open a new window that takes you to the main page of the blog itself.
It took me a while to realize that I almost unilaterally defer to this latter option of opening the main blog page on personal blogs because doing so allows me to feel like a continual part of the ongoing conversation that person is carrying. I can scroll down to check for updates on previous comment threads at the same time, and I feel a greater expansiveness by participating in the whole experience of the blog, rather than being limited to one post's static page. However, the static-page link can be a great option for those blogs that require you to scroll through quite a bit of information before getting to the new content, as it allows you to bypass that extraneous information completely. It's also great when it's a blog would normally choose to read in expanded form on the Bloglines screen but the blog author has selected not to make the full content of their posts available this way.
Another downside I've experienced, which may or may not be an issue for you and which really says more about my personal insecurities than any deficiency in Bloglines, is that living the Bloglines life makes you more aware of your own blog-related shortcomings. For instance, you begin to notice how frequently and faithfully certain bloggers post new content . . . and how infrequently and unfaithfully you do. Also, every time you look at a particular blog's newest post information in the main Bloglines screen, you are also presented with the number of subscriptions that blog currently carries. And if you subscribe to your own blog (as I do), it's tempting to feel a growing sense of your own insignificance when comparing your own blog's subscription base (2??) to that of others (36 . . . 51 . . . 456 . . . 5125?!).
One cool thing about Bloglines that I didn't expect is the way it helps you clarify your true blog-reading preferences. For instance, there are a number of blogs that have been sitting in my Bloglines feed for two weeks. I haven't clicked on them once. The number of new posts on those blogs just keeps growing, and still I do not click. It's revealing: I don't actually care what those bloggers have to say. Or for another example, I subscribed to a few new blogs that I thought I would really enjoy, only to discover that every time I got an updated feed for their blog, I dreaded clicking on it. Or I walked away from reading the new post feeling worse. At some point, I just get tired of feeling that initial dread or that bad feeling afterward. And guess what? Unsubscribing from those "boo blogs"* is just one painless click away. Bloglines makes it easy to wipe painful or discouraging blog-reading experiences out of your system entirely: just click on the latest live feed from that boo blog, click "unsubscribe" on the main Bloglines screen page once for that blog it loads, and you're done. Bad feelings, over.
I've listed a lot of up-and-down considerations from my personal Bloglines life, but I hope they will take some of the sting out of your own fledgling experience, should you decide to try it yourself. Really, I'm glad I switched over. It has simplified my online experience of life considerably, most especially with regards to saving time. I love that it does the hard work of combing the internet for me. I love that all the new content gets delivered to my doorstep, letting me choose the new blog content I would most relish reading first but keeping the other ones live until I'm ready to read them later. And I love that it has made the ongoing growth of my blogging life, as I discover new blogs to gather and follow along, so very easy to do.
*I've been planning to write this Bloglines review for some time, but Penelope Dullaghan's recent post in which she coined the term "boo blogs" lit my fire to finally get the review written and posted. Thanks, Penelope! I really enjoyed reading your perspective, and also discovering that I'm not alone in the way I experience blogs sometimes!