What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Chances are that it is something digital, and that you’re doing it on a mobile phone or a on a bedside computer.
According to a July 2010 survey by Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research, one-third of all female respondents aged 18-35 said the first thing they did when they woke up in the morning was check Facebook. Yes, even before they went to the bathroom.
I am going to go out on a limb and say that the story isn’t all that different for most people. It may not be Facebook, and it may not be before a quick trip to the bathroom, but browsing social networks, emails and other information are some of the first things we do in the morning.
But given the 5-10 minutes you have for your morning news break, how do you pack in maximum content? And how do you avoid the many pitfalls?
For instance, you might want to quickly skim through the latest outrages on Twitter, followed by a speed-read of a tech blog or two, culminating in a quick but comprehensive overview of global breaking business news.
Unfortunately two clicks and 7 minutes later, you’re halfway through a New Yorker piece someone posted on Twitter, the bathroom is occupied, the shirt still needs ironing and you have blown your chance of avoiding rush hour.
Alternatively, you could easily get overwhelmed by dozens of links, pictures, updates and headlines. The average, well-respected technology blog can post 50-200 blog posts in a day.
So how can you distil all this information into the perfect burst of morning news? There are several approaches. But we are going to tell you one simple, mostly free way of catching up with all those headlines. This method gives you the option of deciding how much information you want to catch up on, allows you to do this via multiple platforms, and also lets you come back to it later for more detailed, leisurely reading.
But before everything else: one big caveat. This method makes no references to traditional newspapers or magazines. You might still like to flip through a broadsheet first thing in the morning. You could use our system to substitute some of that experience.
This step is a no-brainer. The best way to save time and reduce hassle in the morning is to ensure you just have to go to one place to catch up on all your news. So instead of individually going through blogs and then newspaper websites and then Facebook, why not pull as many of those elements as possible into one basket? We recommend Google’s excellent Reader online application (http://reader.google.com). Why do we like it so much? This will become clear towards the end of the last step when we discuss devices and platforms.
Most of your news sources will give you RSS feeds that you can just plug into Reader. Others that don’t have straightforward feeds such as email and, say, Twitter might need a little more work.
A great time-saver is to just pull your email account into the same bucket. That saves you from one extra open window. See if your client supports RSS feeds. If you use Gmail, go to www.freemyfeed.com to enter your login details and get an RSS feed of your emails in return. The site will also handle other feeds that require authentication.
The best way to get feeds from Twitter is to search for terms on http://search.twitter.com and then pick up the RSS feed for results from the link on the left toolbar. You can also get RSS feeds for an individual user’s Twitter updates.
Facebook provides limited access to RSS feeds. But you can get one for notifications from http://facebook.com/notifications.php and another one for links shared by friends from your Links app page.
Google Reader also tries to handle pages that don’t have RSS feeds.
The point to remember here is to include as many things as possible. An RSS feeder can handle a lot more than just news. It can also aggregate social networks, Google alerts and even email.
For instance, how can you build a folder full of breaking news updates? From Twitter you can pick a handful of breaking news handles. Then you could also pull a feed of Google Trends for that day (http://www.google.co.in/trends/hottrends?sa=X). Finally, you could also try third-party solutions. Inagist.com is a service that allows you to pull RSS feed of popular tweets from the people you follow.
Add all of these feeds into one folder. Over time you’ll have a foolproof way of keeping on top of things.
Classify and filter
Once you are done adding all the feeds you like, classify them into folders. Instinct will tell you to classify them into the usual types of folders—news, sports, tech, food, Kathakali. But, in fact, you can go one step better. Classify them also into folders based on how and where you’ll read them. For instance, all five tech blogs could go into a Tech folder. But one of those could go into a Daily folder and the rest into a Weekly folder. Google Reader allowsyou to categorize feeds into multiple folders.
Once you’re done classifying, you should now be able to zero in on the right Urgent folder first thing in the morning. And also open another folder when you have loads of time on the weekends.
Finally, do remember that maintenance of feeds is not a one-time activity. One important way to save time is to weed out the ones you never read or always skip.
Devices and platforms
By this point you have all your news feeds coming in to one bucket. And you’ve cleaned up this bucket and tagged and folder-ed it for ease of use.
Now comes a crucial part—using the right platform to consume all this content.
Google Reader already has a very functional interface for your Web browser. But as we discussed in an earlier column here (“An instant news fix”, 14 September), when time is at a premium you want to use a mobile interface. This allows you to focus, avoid distractions and process quickly.
For iPhone users a good app to try is Reeder. It provides a nice clean interface to plough through Google Reader feeds. There are options to read, share and bookmark for later (thelast is essential for a quick morning skim).
On the iPad, Flipboard is the undisputed king of news reader apps. In addition to Google Reader, Flipboards also distil activity on your Facebook walls into a nice newsy interface.
Even Kindle owners have a wonderful service in G:RSS (http://nowsci.com/reader/) that uses the device’s basic browser to deliver a very useful reader interface.
Once everything has been set up, ideally this is how things would work. You wake up, reach for your mobile phone and power up the Reader. You go straight for the folder marked Morning. Inside, you have sub-folders for Email, Social Networks, News, Tech and Kathakali. You skim through the news, marking (with a star) the ones to follow up on later. The ones you ignore haven’t disappeared. They’re still in their respective subject folders, waiting for review.
Because Google Reader syncs Starred items across all devices and platforms, later in the office, over lunch, you read the ones you highlighted in the morning.
Voila. You’ve become a lean, mean, news-consuming machine.
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