Surfing the wave – How I filter MY Web

The best bits of MY web (Image by Niffty on Flickr)
The Internet I love (Image by Niffty on Flickr)

Inspired by Simon Job, this is a post about how I surf the torrential tidal wave of information that is out there on the Internet, how I filter it down into a manageable stream to consume and how I save the best bits for later.

I have been using Google Reader for the last 3 years or so to read the latest updates from my favourite websites and blogs.  I have just spent about the last 4 hours tidying up my list of 400+ websites which I follow after reading an article on Lifehacker about how to declutter and streamline you google reader inbox.

I hope there are some useful tips about Google Reader, DeliciousInstapaper for newcomers to rss, and to old timers with a bulging reader like myself.

I’ve split this little guide into three sections:

  1. How I read just the best bits of the Web that I want, filtering out the noise.
  2. How I save the best bits to read later or for future reference.
  3. How I find retrieve my archived information.

I’d be fascinated to hear how you filter the Web to your liking, and whether any of this was of use to you 🙂

Simon Job has created a great little graphic to explain this process:

Using The Web
Using The Web

Filtering / Reading The Web:

The basics: RSS & Google Reader

If you are not familiar with RSS then I suggest you watch this video and it will explain all:

So that’s RSS, a way for website to update you as soon as new information is published to them.  And from that you will have gathered that you need an RSS Reader.  My reader of choice is Google Reader.  For the uninitiated another quick video:
Adding feeds couldn’t be easier, anywhere you see the orange rss icon you can add a feed.  For a detailed guide of adding feeds and all the features of Google Reader try this guide.

Filing & Filtering

So assuming you have a Google Reader account, the next step I would suggest is to create some folders or tags of feeds based on specific topics.  I worked for several years with a list including: Teaching; Technology; Football; Gaming and a few others.  This worked great until recently, when I check this morning I had over 400 feeds and was receiving 500+ unread items a day.  Way too much to process efficiently without missing stuff.

That’s where the Lifehacker article came in.  This has 3 great tips for the experienced or the newcomer:

  1. Delete unnecessary feeds. Click on Your Stuff > Trends > Inactive.  This will show feeds that haven’t been updated for a while.  Unfollow any dead feeds, check the last post on these, I found lots of blogs with posts saying “I have moved my blog to xxxx, please update your reader” and have re-followed some old chestnuts that I hadn’t realised had gone from my feed.
  2. Priority based folders. I have created 3 new priority based folders to help me not miss the posts that I’ll be really interested in.

_favourites has my favourite non-education feeds in it that I want to read every day and never miss a post.

_secondary has all my other non-education feeds in it, if I don’t have time to read these it won’t be the end of the world.  I could mark all as read on busy days and not miss too much.

_teaching fav has all my favourite education related feeds that I wouldn’t want to miss.

3. Reduce unwanted posts with rss filters. I didn’t go down the Yahoo Pipes route, it’s a little complex for my needs.  I used the excellent PostRank website.  Some blogs and websites that I subscribe to pump out staggering amounts of posts.  PostRank will filter this down.  Type in the website of your choice, try Engadget for example.  You will see a little box with ‘All Posts’ in it, change that to ‘Best Posts’ as you will see this filters down the Engadget feed to only the very best posts (based on comments, links, tweets etc).  This can be a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of some very busy websites.

Sharing / Getting Started

Most of my day was spent going through the hundreds of education blogs I subscribe to and putting them into categories such as English, Maths, Policy etc etc.  Whilst not necessary I’ve been meaning to do this for ages so that I have little groups of feeds to share with staff in my school.

You can share bundles of links in Google Reader, to do so click Browse for stuff > Create a Bundle.  You can then drag either individual feeds in or whole folders.  Here are a selection of feed bundles that you may be interested in following:

If you click through these links and follow the bundles you will be automatically subscribed to all the feeds in that bundle.  Following a few of those should get you some quality content in your reader.

Reader also has some great social features, you can share items with friends, and see what they have shared.  If you have a Google Mail account then a little nosey around the Sharing Settings page should find you some friends who already use Reader.  I’ll not go into further details here.

On the Go:

When at a computer I use the web interface for Google Reader http://www.google.com/reader , it’s fab and I see no need for an alternative.  When I’m on the go I used to use the mobile version of the Google Reader website on my iPhone, however I have recently started using the excellent Byline app .

Byline syncs perfectly with your Google Reader account.  It displays feeds perfectly, has support for things like starring (more of that later) and best of all will cache your feeds for reading later.  This is great for train journeys for example.  I know when I travel to London the 3G coverage on the train is patchy, I can load up byline before I leave, sync all unread items over my wifi and then browse them at my leisure later.

Saving For The Future

So that was how I consume most of my Web, but anything that catches my eye needs saving safely for future reference.


The first thing I will often do is ‘star’ and item in Google Reader, if I’m skimming through and spot something interesting but either don’t have time to save it for future use or read it there and then I will click the little star, it will then be ready in my starred item list next time I have time to look at it properly.  As I mentioned before this can also be done in Byline.


If I come across a longer article that I want to read later I might send to to Instapaper.  I can do this either with the send to button in Google Reader (click Settings > Send To to change your options) or with a bookmarklet saved in my browser.

Instapaper then has a great iPhone app that displays that article in an easy to read way on the iPhone.


The final crucial tool is Delicious.com.  Delicious is a social bookmarking tool that has been around for years.  Here’s another handy video for those not in the know.

I’m not going to go into great detail about how to use Delicious here.  If you need a blow by blow account, knock yourself out with these videos.

I have around a 1000 bookmarked webpages on Delicious.  When I’m saving a website I try and use as many descriptive tags as I can so that it’s easy to find in the future.  Delicious is now my first port of call when searching for info no a certain topic, if I’ve saved something there myself it must have been good!

Here’s my main education account:

And here’s my Maths account:


Google Reader combined with Delicious give me an invaluable store of information tailored to me.  If I’m working on a new project and want to search for information, I’ll search these two sites first for my own personalised results directly from the websites I trust.  After this I’ll head on over to an old fashioned Google search, or probably ask my Twitter network.

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