A Three-Dimensional Approach to Organizing Your Feeds Using Google Reader

I’m constantly optimizing how I do things, and nowhere is this more important to me than with my feed reader. I happen to use (and highly recommend) Google Reader, and what follows is a multi-tiered approach to classifying and reading your feeds using an often ignored feature of the application.

The Problem

The fundamental problem is input management. Most of us simply have too many feeds to read in a single sitting. How can we be sure we’re reading the right content at the right time? Are we reading too much? Too little? The goal is to avoid the anti-GTD state of not being sure – a state that consumes valuable brain resources and keeps you from functioning at your best.

That’s what this system helps you do: it lets you instantly choose which feeds to read at any given time – allowing you to feel fully satisfied when you’re done with a session.

The System

The first thing we’re going to do is make three categories of tags/labels within Google Reader (think folders for old-schoolers). These are:

  1. Priority

  2. Subject

  3. Location

Mine look like this:

  • Priority (general importance): Primary, Secondary, Tertiary

  • Subject (classical organization): Security, Programming, Design, Humor

  • Location (contextual consideration): Industry News, Important World Events, etc.


This breakdown gives us three choices for how to attack feeds. You can go by a general ranking of importance of the feed (priority), by the specific type of content that you want to read at a given moment (subject), or based on where you are (location).

So if you’re at work during regular hours you can read your “work” feeds, which include important information pertaining to your profession, key world events, and perhaps some other tidbits that may be useful during work-related conversation. And during lunch you can read your “lunch” feeds, which include your feeds that are still work appropriate during lunch but perhaps aren’t completely work related, e.g. Dilbert, XKCD, Reddit, etc.

The key to the whole system is that each individual feed can have multiple tags assigned to it. This feature is there for a reason.

Unsupervised Learning — Security, Tech, and AI in 10 minutes…

Get a weekly breakdown of what's happening in security and tech—and why it matters.

Multiple Tags

What this allows us to do is put our feeds in all three categories simultaneously. This gives us the simplicity of knowing what to read at any given moment, but at the same time it links all three categories together. So if you read TechCrunch from one view it gets marked as read in the others as well.


Let’s take my Information Security News feed. It’s a Yahoo! Pipe I built that combines news from around the industry, removes duplicates, etc. It’s a fast way to get the top stories I’d find in my “security-news” tag that contains multiple individual feeds.

For my infosec pipe feed I have the following tags applied in the three dimensions (PSL):

  • Primary (priority)

  • Security-News (subject)

  • Work (location)

The trick is that I can decide to read from any one of those categories and I’ll still cover this very important aggregation feed. But if you take my Design Observer feed it’s more likely to break down like this:

  • Tertiary

  • Design

  • (no location because it defaults to home)

Assigning the multiple tags makes it possible to cover the same content during various types of reading sessions – whether you browsed based on time available, where you were, or a particular interest such as design or programming.

This system helps me greatly in getting through my feeds with less stress and allows me to feel confident that I’ve read precisely what I should have during my session. I hope you find it useful as well.:

Related posts: