One of the most exciting developments in the internet age has been the growth of blogs – personal websites on which people can share their knowledge, opinions, and sometimes intimate details of their private lives. WordPress alone is now responsible for hosting more 40 million new blog posts each month (you can get a sense of this frenetic activity through their mesmerising live map). The problem for those of us who want to use this valuable source of information is how on earth to keep on top of it all. It’s difficult to remember to visit your favourite blog to check whether it’s been updated, and trawling through them all can be a time-consuming experience (albeit a very effective work displacement activity).
My favourite solution is Feedly, an attractive web-based tool for following, organising, and sharing blog content. Technically it’s a ‘news aggregator’, but it’s much more than that. You have control over the layout and can tell Feedly which blogs are most important to you – those posts will then show up on your homepage. Adding a blog is a simple case of copy and pasting the URL or searching.
Once you’ve found one you want to follow, click the green +Feedly icon and then you can assign a category. By using categories you’ll be able to quickly find the content you need. I have categories for ‘Victorian’, my primary area of research, along with ‘Elearning’, ‘Publishing’, and ‘Books’. As I have a diverse workload, this allows me to keep everything compartmentalised. When categorising your blogs, you can also tick a box that says ‘must read’. Feedly then ensures that any important new posts show up on your homepage. You can also change the order in which your categories appear.
Feedly also suggests other blogs you might want to follow, thereby helping you to quickly build an ever-expanding repository tailored to your own interests.
The magazine-style layout makes reading online much more appealing, but you can opt for a basic list instead. This is quicker if you need to scan through a lot of blog posts. There are dozens more options for configuring Feedly, such as changing the colour scheme and specifying which categories should appear on the homepage. If you start using Feedly intensively, the keyboard shortcuts will save you quite a bit of time. To view them, you just need to press the ? key.
The magic bar, in case you’re wondering, allows you to quickly switch between categories. You’ll see here that with Feedly you can clip a blog post to Evernote with one keystroke – a brilliantly effective way of capturing the most useful web content for your research. Feedly also works with social media tools, such as Pocket, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, so you can easily share great posts with others. Needless to say, there’s also a smartphone app, which helps me keep on top of new posts when I’m on the bus.
Best of all, most of Feedly’s features are available for free. An annual subscription of $45 (or $5 per month) gives you faster searching, access to support, and the Evernote integration mentioned above. The free version is all that most people need, but I believe it’s important to support good tools to ensure their continued development. Feedly is a vital tool for the modern researcher, and long may it flourish.