Social Media 111: Customizing Your iGoogle Page

In Social Media 102 we introduced you to RSS, which is a powerful way for you to keep tabs on what’s new in dozens (if not 100 or more) of Web sites and blogs that provide RSS feeds. Instead of having to go to the sites, you can use Newsgator or NetNewswire or Google Reader, and have the updates sent to you.

iGoogle is an alternative that enables you to embed what Google calls “gadgets” featuring the latest content from your favorite sites, all on a single page. It lets you, in effect, create a simple, free blog monitoring dashboard.

I recently heard that Yahoo! said as many as half of all MyYahoo! users never customize it from the default settings. I expect that may also be true of iGoogle. That’s why I made this video screencast, to show just how easy it is to customize iGoogle, to have the latest posts from the key blogs you’re monitoring available to you with a single click.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B7u49Ky_oo]

Homework Assignment:

  1. Sign into your gmail account (or get one if you haven’t yet)
  2. Go to iGoogle.
  3. Click the “Add Stuff” link (on the right side), and then the “Add feed or gadget” link in the left column.
  4. When the box pops up, paste in a URL from any blog post. If you like, for example, you could use this one: http://social-media-university-global.org/2008/10/27/smug-reading-list-102708/ then hit the “Add” button.
  5. When you get the confirmation that the feed has been added, click the “Back to iGoogle Home” link, and you will see that the gadget containing this RSS feed has been placed in the upper left corner of your page.
  6. Repeat the steps for each blog you want added to your monitoring dashboard.

Please note that while iGoogle lets you just enter the URL from a single blog post, and figures out the related RSS feed you want to monitor, you also can paste in the URL from an RSS feed in step 4. So, for example, I did a Blogpulse search for posts mentioning “Mayo Clinic” and got this URL:

http://blogpulse.com/rss?query=%22Mayo+Clinic%22&sort=date&operator=

Which I pasted into a gadget and now it sits on the front page of my iGoogle.

Please note also that you can edit the number of feeds that go into your gadget, increasing to up to 9:

This will be most helpful for those feeds (like Blogpulse or Technorati searches on keywords) for which you expect more frequent updates.

Alltop has several pre-configured pages like this, as described in this post. But you can’t tailor those. You can configure iGoogle to exactly meet your needs, though, and as our SMUG motto says:

It’s Not That Hard!

Social Media 102: Intro to RSS

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is at the core of social media, which is why this course is among the first in the Social Media University, Global curriculum.

In essence, RSS is a way you can subscribe to get updates (RSS feeds or “Web feeds”) from Web sites that interest you. All you need is an RSS aggregator or feed reader (and you may have one built into your Web browser already!) If you’re using Firefox or IE7 for Windows, you have the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds “baked in.” Likewise on Safari for Mac OS.

Conversely, when you are producing content on the web as you become a more advanced SMUG student, RSS will be the way interested people can subscribe to your updates.

Among the best advantages is that RSS doesn’t get caught in spam filters. You don’t have to maintain a list of subscribers. They are self-selected.

Another neat thing about RSS with news sites is you can subscribe to just the sections that interest you, if the site owner has made those specialized feeds available. For instance, the Washington Post site has more than 150 separate feeds (see them in a new window) so you can tailor what news you receive. Look for the logo at the top of this post, or the XML graphic (see below).

And if you appreciate being able to fine-tune the information you receive by RSS, think of those who are reading  or listening to your material (if you have a podcast). You may want to provide multiple feeds, so people can choose.

You can read all about RSS here on Wikipedia, or better yet go to the Common Craft site to see the RSS in Plain English video (opens in a new window). I can’t recommend this video highly enough. Lee and Sachi LeFever may well be among the first candidates for Honorary Doctorates from SMUG.

Homework Assignments:

  1. Get an RSS reader/aggregator. If you aren’t getting RSS through your advanced browser, Google Reader is a great free online RSS aggregator. The Attensa products are free, too. If you have a laptop and would like to be able to read your feeds when you’re not connected to the Net (like when you’re on the bus or a plane), you might want to get a standalone reader like these from NewsGator for Mac or Windows.  There also are some plug-ins for Outlook that let you get RSS feeds in a folder that’s part of your email client. Here’s one of those from Attensa.
  2. Subscribe to the RSS feed from SMUG by clicking here. Pick one or more of the Washington Post feeds, too.
  3. Share your experience with your classmates. If you already have a way of reading RSS feeds, leave a comment below telling which reader or browser-based solution you use, and why. If you’re having any difficulty getting started with RSS, leave a note about that, too. It’s really important to get this step right. Understanding RSS, at least at the “Plain English” level, is an essential prerequisite for further study.

Remember, at Social Media University, Global your tuition is free, and we will never require anything in our homework assignments that would force you to spend any money.