Tools to Reduce Information Overload – Part 1 – RSS & Podcasts

Like many in the IT industry I am finding more and more that keeping up to date with the latest technology advances, whilst remaining sane and keeping my wife from killing me, is becoming trickier by the day! Between the tens or hundreds of blogs, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook (ok that’s more personal, but you get the idea!) feeds, its hard to both a) manage that information, and b) keep up with the sheer volume. This is especially true when you consider the volume of brilliant content being produced by bloggers within the virtualisation / Cloud (gag) industry alone…

I used to be fortunate enough to work from home 80% of the time, which meant that it was relatively easy to keep up with all the different streams, feeds, etc by simply having a second machine and screen up and running when in the house. Since starting a new role as a Solution Architect, I am lucky to be at home one day every few weeks, so I have been forced to rethink my strategy.

I have always been a bit of a fandroid, however after starting the new role, I was presented with a shiny new iPhone! After I got back from gagging in the loo, I had to think about how to integrate the Apple app ecosystem into my current Android (tablet and phone) setup, so the number one requirement moving forward was that apps should be able to communicate, access and share information outside of their walled gardens!

Having done some fairly in-depth research on different free and paid apps available on both Android and iDevice, I have re-jigged my setup for each information stream as follows:

Blogs / RSS Feeds

My old method for keeping up with blogs was to simply add them into Outlook’s built-in RSS reader. This was brilliant as you can then assign Outlook rules to feeds, to remove any junk articles, or move articles you wish to highlight into other directories –  a superb feature! Unfortunately this doesn’t have any feasible remote access / sync options (other than RDP which I already use if I am online) so I decided to move all my feeds up to Google Reader to track instead. The migration was really simple as I just exported all my feeds (over 50 of them!) from Outlook as an OPML file, which I was then able to import into Google Reader. Much quicker than having to add each manually! The only thing you lose at this stage is their folder structure, but you can then go to Options\Subscriptions and add the blogs into a single layer of subdirectories. I choose to separate mine by subject, e.g. Virtualisation / Networking / Storage / Tech News / Training etc.

Filtering the Junk –  FeedDemon Pro
To get rid of any articles you are / aren’t interested in, you need the ability to mark them as read / unread in your Google feed. After testing a few different apps, the best I found (for now) is called FeedDemon Pro (currently version 4.1). The free version is a a simple RSS reader with tagging, podcast sync, etc but the pro version (paid for) allows you to filter articles as either “mark as read if…” or “mark as read unless…”. The biggest bugbear with this app is that you can only do a positive or a negative filter on each feed, but not both. I would love to see this ability added in future versions, for example I follow the HotUKDeals feed, where I like to keep any post with tags like “SSD”,”Kindle” etc, but I want to remove any posts with the word “Win”, “Competition” etc. This was possible with Outlook, but not FeedDemon, which is a shame.

This app is left running 24/7 on my workstation VM at home, as it is only able to filter content whilst running (obviously). There have been a number of sites which have come and gone over the past few years offering filtering of Google Reader content, but I can’t see there being an easy way to monetise them, which probably explains why they have virtually all gone offline within a year or two. For now I will stick to the local filtering option but if a clear SaaS-type google reader filter emerges and sticks around (such as perhaps FeedRinse), I’d happily take their service (and even pay a couple of quid a year for it!). Frankly I don’t know why Google don’t just add this functionality natively?…

Once the feeds have been filtered, I needed a way to access them on each of my devices. For that I use the following apps (which each mark items read / unread in the feed so they all stay in sync, irrespective of vendor and device!).

Android –  gReader
Not the prettiest interface, but a great app which works on my phone and tablet, and provides all the usual sharing options, plus the ability to offline cache whole articles should you wish to do so. It also has generated voice options so you can listen to blogs if you so wish (e.g. in the car).

iPhone –  Reeder
I really like the nice clean interface, and the huge array of sharing / integration options. For me, this is the app to beat when it comes to mobile RSS reading. If it came to Android I would be first in line to purchase!

PC –  Outlook integrated Google Reader
This takes advantage of Outlooks ability to display whole webpages within Outlook folders. As per this article on Lifehacker “Just right-click on the folder, choose Properties, enter the URL to Google Reader on the Home Page tab, and then check the box for “Show home page by default for this folder”. You can even use the full URL to a specific folder in Google Reader, or create extra folders in Outlook and use a different URL for quick access to different views.”


Many of the above applications will support auto podcast downloading, but to keep things simple and seperate out this high storage requirement (average podcast is 30–100mb in size), I prefer to have a dedicated app. My preference is to listen to podcasts in the car as it passes the time a little quicker on my 35–45 minute journey to and from work, and you can generally listen to a podcast a day that way.

Android –  BeyondPod
My preferred app (which I use solely on my Android) is BeyondPod. This app has been designed brilliantly and integrates perfectly with my car’s audio system via bluetooth, auto playing the current podcast playlist as soon as bluetooth connects, pausing for phone calls, and saving my place when i turn off the ignition ready to continue where it left off on my next journey! In addition it will auto connect my phone to my wireless network overnight and download the latest podcast episodes I have subscribed to, ready to play at my convenience.

I have also just noticed time running away with me, and this article doing the same, so I think I will split this out into a couple of pieces covering Twitter, email and offline reading / Pocket next time. Please feel free to comment on how you manage your feeds or anything else related? More next week!…

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