If you haven’t switched from Google Reader to another option recently, you’ll need to do so soon. Why? Earlier this year, Google announced it is discontinuing this service on July 1st:
We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.
If you have never used Google Reader and haven’t a clue what it is (or why you should care), it is what is known as an aggregate reader, a tool that keep tracks of the sites you read by notifying you when a new post appears. It is different from a bookmark in that you can read all of the posts from all of the sites in one location without having to skip from one Web site to another.
July 1st, of course, is less than a week away. If you have not selected an alternative to Google Reader, make sure you back up your data with Google Takeout right away. According to Google, the following information will be backed up:
List of people that you follow
List of people that follow you
Items you have starred
Items you have liked
Items you have shared
Items shared by people you follow
Notes you have created
Items with comments
Better yet, choose a reader platform that automatically imports the Internet sites you follow from Google Reader. I don’t pretend to be an expert on what the best reader might be, but the following posts may help you make an informed decision. Be aware that some readers are free, while others are not.
Interestingly, none of the posts listed above recommends Bloglovin,’ the blog reader that I use to not only follow favorite blogs, but also Web sites and YouTube video channels. This reader is easy to sign up for, easy to use, and convenient. I managed to import all of my Google Reader sites into Bloglovin’ through the sign-up process. When you sign up for Bloglovin’, you can do so either through your Facebook account or your e-mail address. You can click on this image to get to the sign-up page.
Some of the features I appreciate about Bloglovin’ include the following:
Bloglovin works on your computer, iPhone, Android and iPad. I have used it on both my computer and iPad, but prefer the computer because it has more features.
You can sort the sites you follow by name or date.
You can organize the sites you follow into customized categories, as I have done.
You can choose to browse through unread posts, a category or a specific blog.
You can mark posts as read or unread (useful if you want to continue reading the post once you exit the reader), like a post (which adds it to a list of favorites), and share a post on a social network such as Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
You can discover new blogs by clicking on Popular Posts or Top Blogs. You can also choose a specific category of post from a drop-down menu beneath Popular Posts or Top Blogs.
When you are browsing through new blogs, you can select the country whose blogs you want to view.
You typically read posts within a Bloglovin’ frame, from which you can comment, share, and mark as read. Blogs still record your visit as a view, even though you are visiting them through this frame.
You can add a button to your Web site so that readers can follow your blog through Bloglovin’. Mine is located in the left side bar of this site—or you can simply click on the image below, and that will enable you to follow me.
New posts on Bloglovin’ are kept for a minimum of two weeks, but you can keep a post visible indefinitely simply by liking it.
You can protect your privacy. If you don’t wish others to see the blogs or sites you follow, you can mark them as private under the “Manage blogs you follow” section of your account. You can also ask to be notified by e-mail who is following you.
Obviously, there are many more alternatives to Google Reader than I know about. If you have had a good (or bad) experience with a particular one, please feel free to share in the comments below.
In my previous post, I promised I would offer another alternative to Google Friend Connect, a widget commonly used by bloggers to enable their readers to follow them, but which is being discontinued for non-Blogger users at the end of this month. If you consider the blogs you visit, there are actually many ways to follow them: e-mail or newsletter subscription, RSS feed, Google+, and the list goes on. Because everyone has his or her favorite way of following a blog, and because you’re not likely going to please everyone, I highly recommend offering more than one way for your blog to be followed. So, here is one more blog management tool that is easy to use, easy to manage and offers many options. It’s also free, which is a plus.
Just one week ago Brent Riggs of Linky Tools launched Linky Followers, a service tested by “mom bloggers” that Brent promises will remain free to use. According to Brent in his post NEW SITE: LinkyFollowers.com, “Bloggers need a good ‘follower’ tool and one that is not tied to a million other services (seems like Facebook, Twitter and Google are linked to everything else on the Internet). It needs to be simple, fast, easy-to-use and reliable.”
Within a few days after the service became available, a couple of thousand users had already signed up. So, does this tool live up to hype? I decided to create an account and check it out.
When you sign up for Linky Followers, you are provided with code that you can copy and paste into your site, whether that’s Blogger, WordPress or some other blogging platform. I copied the code and pasted it into an HTML widget for this Web site and saved it. The process took less than 2 minutes. Easy!
Then I decided to visit a few blogs that already had the same widget installed. I clicked on Follow Me, wondering what would happen if you didn’t already have an account. The Follow A Blog screen appears as shown below, offering you the opportunity to sign up for an account, or to sign in to an existing account if you have one.
When you sign in to your account, you are taken immediately to the Dashboard, which is the heart of Linky Followers. The screen is a bit cluttered because of the tips, demos and links collected collage-style on the screen, but they also don’t seem to get in the way of using the Dashboard. Here are a few things I learned about Linky Followers within a quarter of an hour:
You can upload a picture of yourself and complete a profile that will enable other users of Linky Followers to learn about you.
You can organize the blogs you follow, as well as your blog followers, into categories. The default categories are General, Check Every Day, and Favorite, but you can create as many custom categories as you wish. I created a few sample categories such as Craft Community, Tutorials, BBEST Team and Blogging Business Artisans. The latter two categories are Etsy teams to which I belong.
You can follow blogs without a Linky Followers account by entering them manually into your Dashboard.
A blog reader is built inside the Dashboard so that you don’t have to leave your account to read posts. However, you still have the option to go directly to a blog from your Dashboard.
The information about the blogs you follow and your blog followers is organized into columns that you can rearrange simply by dragging the header at the top of the columns. This means you can organize the information so that it makes sense to you.
If you have multiple blogs, you can create a customized widget for each one, and each blog will have its own set of followers, all managed by your Dashboard.
You can visit any of your followers’ blogs right from your widget, simply by clicking on their thumbnail.
There is a Linky Followers Blog Directory, so if you are looking for some fresh new blogs to read, as of today there are 129 pages (and growing) you can explore.
If you are looking for a relatively easy-to-use blog management tool that gives you the option to organize blogs and blog posts for easy access, then Linky Followers is a great option. You’ll find the widget for it in my left side bar, as a matter of fact, which represents my endorsement of this product.
Are you like me, who missed an announcement about Google Friend Connect disappearing from non-Blogger sites at the end of this month? Google Friend Connect is a tool used by bloggers all over the Web to gather readers and stay in touch with them. Since I am a WordPress user, I was not happy to hear I will lose my followers! After doing some extensive reading, I came up with two potential solutions, the first of which is Google+ Pages. In my next post, I will discuss a second solution.
Let’s talk first about Google+. Apparently Google+ is very similar to Circles on Etsy, Friends on Facebook, and tweets on Twitter. It is a social networking tool that keeps everyone in touch with each other. Everything that you can do with Facebook now—post a comment, link, photo or video, or chat with others in live time—is something you can do using the Stream (posting tool) from your Google+ profile or Page (more about that in a minute). In time, I believe that many Blogger users may eventually wish to add a Google+ widget called a Badge to their sites, instead of relying solely on Google Friend Connect. Here’s why.
Google+ is a set of services designed to enable you to communicate with different audiences called Circles. If you are Aunt Jill who wants to talk to her niece on the other side of the country, all you need to do is sign up for (or upgrade to) a Google+ account, enter your personal information into a profile, and add friends, family and acquaintances into Circles so that you can share customized content with each audience. That content might include comments, links, photos, or videos, or even playing online games with people from your Circles. Think of this as personal use of Google+ services.
But let’s say that you are also a designer who sells your handmade goods on Etsy. You are a business owner with more specialized needs who needs to reach her customers. You want to keep track of people who follow your blog posts, customers, VIPs, and possibly team members who provide a support network. You have a blog or Web site that introduces new products, lets your buyers know where your next craft show will be, announces special promotions, provides tutorials, and features designers you admire or with whom you partner. You likely want to build your audience in the hope that they will also be interested in purchasing your products. What you need is a business Page that you can add to your Google+ account. In a perfect world, you want your Page and blog or Web site to link to each other.
Previously, you may have used Google Friend Connect to gather and keep track of followers. Maybe you even used it to send out newsletters. A Google+ Page goes beyond this by also allowing you to touch base easily with your followers by posting announcements, links, photos and videos through a posting tool called a Stream (similar to Facebook) anytime you have something to say. It is a recruiting tool that can bring you more readers through a Badge on your blog or Web site, and thereby (and indirectly) more buyers. It is also a way in which your readers can recommend your posts, blog or Web site to others using the +1 button. Watch the video below to understand how the +1 button works.
In order to link your blog or Web site to Google+ and vice versa, you need to upgrade your Google account to a Google+ account, add a Page, and create a Badge for your blog or Web site. You can add as many Pages as you want. If you have multiple blogs or Web sites, add a Page for each one. The Badge is a tool similar in some ways to Google Friend Connect in that it displays how many people have added your Page to their Circles. What’s special about the Badge is that it includes a +1 button, enabling readers to recommend your site to other people. It also links followers to postings on your Google+ Page. You can have more than one Badge on a blog or a Web site, each tied to a different Page in Google+. You can also have a +1 button anywhere on your site, even following each post.
To summarize, Google+ account profiles and their Streams are for personal use, while Google+ Pages and their Streams are for business use.
If you’re still sitting on the fence about whether or not Google+ Badges are for you, you may find this excerpt from a Google page about Badges helpful:
If you’re still considering whether to add a Google+ badge on your website, consider this: We recently looked at top sites using the badge and found that, on average, the badge accounted for an additional 38% of followers. When you add the badge visitors to your website can discover your Google+ page and connect in a variety of ways: they can follow your Google+ page, +1 your site, share your site with their circles, see which of their friends have +1’d your site, and click through to visit your Google+ page.
The Google+ Badge makes it easy for your fans to find and follow you on Google+. With these additional options, we hope it’s even easier to create a badge that fits your website.
Follow the steps below to gather followers for your blog or Web site using Google+ Pages, and to optimize the ways you can communicate with your followers.
2. In the right upper corner appears your account name (your email address without the @XXX.com). Beneath that is a dropdown menu. Click on Join Google+, and what appears next is a window where you are asked to create a public Google profile. Supply the requested information. If you aren’t ready to add a photo of yourself (or do not desire to do so), you can skip this step and always add one later. Click on Upgrade.
3. The next screen asks you to find people you know from Yahoo or Hotmail. You can skip this if you like by clicking on Skip at the bottom of the screen.
4. Google+ will suggest people for you to add to your Circles. You can also skip this if you prefer by clicking on Continue. You can watch the video below for an introduction to Circles.
5. The next screen asks you to follow public posts from interesting and famous people. You can skip this step if you are not interested by clicking on Continue.
6. Next you are asked to add personal details about yourself, including a photo. Go ahead and enter as much or as little information as you desire. You can always come back to this page later. When you are finished, click on Finished.
7. The final screen is the home page of your Google+ account and contains your personal profile. Every time you sign in to http://www.google.com/+, this is what you will see.
Notice that there is a navigation bar at the top of your screen, with icons for Home, Photos, Profile, Circles and Games. If you hover your mouse over the icons, you’ll see these words. You can click on any of these icons to enter your preferences.
On the upper left side, just below the Google+ icon, is a photo (or empty photo frame) of you, along with your first name.
After you add Pages to your Google+ account, these will appear below your name in a dropdown menu. Right now you have no Pages, so you will not see any Pages.
Your Stream is where you post comments, photos, links, videos or other content. You will also see the content from other people’s Streams if you have added them to your Circles. To learn more about Streams, visit the Help page.
You determine your audience when you post to your Stream, whether you are using the personal profile for your account, or a business Page. If you post from your account profile’s Stream, there are pre-assigned Circles for Friends, Family, Acquaintances, and Following. If you are posting from your Page’s Stream, your pre-defined Circles include Following, Customers, VIPs and Team Members. You can use the ones you prefer, and add custom Circles as well. You may find this second video about Circles helpful.
When you view content from other people, one of the ways in which you can respond is with the +1 button. The +1 button allows you to recommend that content, share it with Circles you designate, or use it to help improve Google Search results. This feature can be used both within Google+ and across the Web. When you see a +1 button anywhere on the Web and you click on it, it turns blue, indicating you have made a recommendation. You can add it to your blog or Web site, or to individual posts.
You can have live chats with people from your Circles. These are called Hangouts. Watch the video below to understand how this works.
2. You will be prompted for a Page name, and will be walked through the process of creating a profile for your Page. (This is NOT the same thing as the personal profile for your Google+ account. Every Page has its own business profile, as well as its own set of Circles or audiences.) You can take your time doing this. Enter as many details as you wish now, and complete the rest later. The description area is large enough for you to include a link to your blog or Web site, as well as links to your selling venues.)
3. When you are finished with the profile process, click “Done editing.”
4. To get to your Google+ account in the future, go to: http://www.google.com/+. You can also get to your Google+ account by visiting http://www.google.com. After you sign in, just click on the dropdown list beneath your account name, and click on Google+.
Create a Badge for your blog or Web site:
1. Identify your Page’s 21-digit number. It is important to note that only Pages, not your Google+ personal profile, can be linked to your Web site or blog through a Badge, so identify the correct number! Go to your Page’s Stream and click Get started in the left side bar. Under the Tell the World section, you’ll see the address for your Page. Copy the 21 digits that are part of that address.
3. If you want to add a +1 button to your posts (or to the footer of your posts), use the +1 Configuration Tool and follow the instructions on that page.
4. You may be more comfortable using a plugin or widget to add a Badge to your Web site. Since my Web site is fueled by WordPress, I used wpLifeGuard’s Google+ Add to Circles plugin. There are others that also work. If you use Blogger, you may find it helpful to search the Internet using the phrase “blogger widget + google+.” When I did so, I found Google Plus Widget. I do not endorse one plugin or widget over another; you will simply have to try one and see if you like it.
Stay tuned for my next post, in which I will discuss another alternative to Google Friend Connect.