// Internet Duct Tape

How Do People Use Google Reader with Internet Explorer?

Posted in Firefox and Greasemonkey, RSS Syndication, Technology by engtech on August 06, 2007

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

Any computer geek worth his salt has been through the drill: you go to visit a family member for dinner and eventually they mention some arcane problem they’ve been having with software you long ago expunged from all of your computers. Common culprits are the Unholy Triad: Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer and Norton Anti-Virus. But what’s much worse than when solving some niggling problem that is only caused by their choice apps is when you volunteer to enter the belly of the beast and perform some “improvements” of your own free will.

To all the computer geeks reading this I offer you a humble warning: nothing good can come from volunteering to “improve” a family member’s computer. Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

I was at my father’s house this weekend. A relaxing day of pool, reading and sun followed by a delicious barbeque left me content and sated. My normal cynicism when it comes to technology was at an all time low. He isn’t as technically minded as me, and for a long time I’ve been wanting to get him set up using an RSS feed reader. He has never used them before but he understood the basic concept: RSS is like getting email newsletters of website updates, but without clogging your email. RSS is a blogger’s best friend. It lets us keep track of each other’s updates painlessly and effortlessly. He has a blog of his own and using Google Reader would make it very easy for him to share posts and links on his blog using the Shared Items feature and a widget in his blog’s sidebar.

rss feeds the oprah way

Google Reader was an easy choice because it is the feed reader I use every day. It is the most widely adopted web-based RSS reader with 50-60% market share. The interface is similar to Gmail. It lets you quickly scroll through items, starring stuff you want to find again later and sharing items with other people. But the deciding factor for me is that it is the reader I use every day — always get your family members using the same software you do if you want to have any hope of troubleshooting problems later.

The initial steps were easy: create a new Gmail account for his blog identity that doesn’t use his real name (since that is displayed by your Google Shared Items), add that identity to his Blogger blog as admin, and add his Google Shared Items as a sidebar widget on his blog. It all went very smoothly until I started subscribing to feeds.

Internet Explorer 6 Sucks for RSS

He is still a die hard Internet Explorer 6 user, and it’s all my fault because of articles like this where I explain how to downgrade from IE7 to IE6. Internet Explorer 6 is really bad for reading RSS feeds because it doesn’t understand RSS at all. I so rarely use IE6 that I had forgotten that it doesn’t know how to automatically find the RSS feed for a page (“RSS autodiscovery”) and that when you click on an RSS link it displays crap like this:

interet explorer rss feed looks like crap

What are you supposed to do with something like that? The answer is that you cut-and-paste the feed URL and add it to Google Reader manually. Is someone new to RSS ever going to do that? No.

There is an easier way of doing it using a bookmarklet — a piece of Javascript that you save as a bookmark (or “Add as Favorite” in IE lingo). You can find a bookmarklet for doing that in Google Reader under Settings and then Goodies. Unfortunately it didn’t work properly because of either his Internet Explorer security settings or because of a conflict with Norton Anti-Virus. He likes to save his bookmarks on the desktop to access them instead of using the Favorites menu, so the chances of getting him to use a bookmarklet were already slim to none. Back to the drawing board.

google toolbar example

Instead of trying to figure out the conflict, I decided to add the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer. Google Toolbar is a great little add-on for any web browser. You can edit the buttons to add all kinds of neat things like searching within the current website, notification of new Gmail messages, toggling highlighting of search terms on the current page and Google Reader notification of new posts in your RSS feeds. But what is missing is a way to one-click subscribe to the current site in Google Reader.

Screw this. One of the “advanced” features of Internet Explorer 7 is better RSS integration, so it’s time for an unplanned upgrade. 15 minutes and one reboot later we’re running the latest and greatest IE7 — and having the exact same problems!

How Do People Subscribe with Google Reader in IE7?

When you click on an RSS link in IE7 you at least get something you can read with an option to subscribe to it. But it only defaults to the built-in Internet Explorer 7 feed reader — it doesn’t give an option to subscribe to Google Reader. It’s much better than IE6 but it still doesn’t solve my problem: I want him to be able to add subscriptions to Google Reader with one click. The bookmarklet still isn’t working properly under Internet Explorer 7.

I’m tired, frustrated and desperate so I decide to pull out the big guns. Firefox has this amazingly little tool called Greasemonkey that makes it trivial to add additional functionality to your web browser. I know that there’s a Greasemonkey script to let you one click subscribe to RSS feeds in Google Reader. I know that it’s possible to manhandle IE to force it to be able to run Greasemonkey user scripts… Google tells me that a plugin called IE7Pro can do it, but after I install IE7Pro it doesn’t understand how to install Greasemonkey scripts.

WTF? THIS IS SO SIMPLE TO DO IN FIREFOX! Why in the world is everything so hard in Internet Explorer? How do people surf the Internet like this?

For any non-believers in the audience, let me show you how easy RSS works in Firefox land.

Firefox + Google Reader = Crazy Delicious

Firefox understands when a website has an RSS feed auto-discovery link. You don’t have to search through the entire page to find the stupid orange button, you can click on the button in your address bar.

Step #1: Click on the Orange Icon in the Address Bar

rss feed auto-discovery

Step #Who Cares: You Only Do This Once

The first time you use it, it will display the feed in a nice, human readable way, with a yellow box asking you what you want to use to subscribe to this feed. Google Reader is one of the options and you can set it up to *ALWAYS* use Google Reader from now on.

always use google reader to subscribe to rss

Step #Skip This With Greasemonkey: Choose Between Google Homepage and Google Reader

Unfortunately, Google isn’t smart enough to remember your preference between Google Reader and Google Homepage — so you have to always chose the red pill or the blue pill. There is a handy Greasemonkey script to fix that though: always subscribe to Google Reader.

one click subscribe with google reader

One click subscription to Google Reader thanks to Firefox and Greasemonkey. Quite a bit easier than:

  1. Right Click on RSS feed URL
  2. Copy shortcut
  3. Log in to Google Reader
  4. Click on Add Subscription
  5. Paste short cut into form
  6. Click Add

…which seems to be the only way to do it in Internet Explorer 6 that worked reliably for me.

Please Tell Me I’m Wrong

When I’m writing rants about frustrating moments of needless computer complication there is always the nagging voice in the back of my head that I’m missing something obvious and making things much harder than they have to be. I hope this is the case.

I was surprised that someone hasn’t built a one-click “add auto-discovery feed to Google Reader” button for the Google toolbar. A little digging shows that it isn’t be possible because the kind of things you can do with Google Toolbar is actually quite limited. This is too bad because it would get more Google Reader users using the Toolbar and more Toolbar users using Google Reader.

My experience with Google Reader + Internet Explorer wouldn’t have been so bad if the bookmarklet had worked for me. But given the fact that 58% of people surfing the web are using some form of Internet Explorer (compared to 35% for Firefox) and that Google Reader is the most popular web-based RSS reader… well, it’s no surprise that more people aren’t reading RSS feeds. It’s hard enough to explain to people why RSS is useful when you can’t show them how to subscribe to an RSS feed consistently in one or two clicks.

If the best feed reading software doesn’t integrate seamlessly with their web browser of choice then why should they jump through hoops getting it to work when they’ve never even used RSS before? And it really doesn’t help that most of the mainstream news portals on the net still don’t offer full feeds. If you don’t read blogs then it’s hard to explain the power of RSS — mainstream sites still don’t get how RSS without full feeds isn’t worth reading.

41 Responses

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  1. chicagoterrainfactory said, on August 06, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    I must not understand your question.
    1. open Google Reader
    2. click “Add subscription”
    3. Cut/paste address of blog
    4. click “add”
    Google does the rest & adds the RSS feed to my reader.

    IE6, Windows (2003 & ME)

    Works like a charm every time.

  2. A.J. Valliant said, on August 06, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Your dad has a blog?
    I would never have figured that.

  3. Webomatica said, on August 06, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    I have no answer to your question as I’m on a Mac and use Firefox. But I do want to mention that dealing with the parents’ computer can be quite painful. I don’t want to embarass the folks but let me just say that concepts like minimizing a window, shortcuts on the desktop, and double clicking vs. single clicking are very hard concepts for some.

  4. Terinea Weblog said, on August 06, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    I’m often faced with the same question, do I install Firefox on my client PC’s. More often than not, I don’t. They just get confused, same goes for friends and family. Having said that my parents have been using Firefox for well over 2 years and never complained.

    Jamie

  5. syahid ali said, on August 07, 2007 at 3:03 am

    i don’t use Google Reader on IE so i can’t tell if you are wrong or not. but we have some mutual agreement on the “Firefox + Google Reader = Crazy Delicious” part. :D

  6. [...] RSS feeds in Google Reader with ease in IE How Do People Use Google Reader with Internet Explorer? is what engtech@IDT asked. It’s true that there are a lot many things that Firefox does [...]

  7. Jalaj P. Jha said, on August 07, 2007 at 7:32 am

    I have tried to lower the pain with a small JavaScript script on a link that you need to save to your favourites and when you meet an RSS link (alas you have to search for it contrast to auto-search in firefox) just make a selection around it and fire the URL that you saved in favorites and the feed will be subscribed in Google Reader. The javascript link to be favorited is available here in this page and more details with post that appears #1 on trackback.

  8. Toni said, on August 07, 2007 at 10:13 am

    OK…Whoever owns this blog, I could kiss you a thousand times..oh heck make it a million…most of us, oh so need this info….and on just a personal note please forget about all that stuff about going into the belly of the beast when visitingg MY house…have at it…just tell me WHY you are doing it and HOW to use the modifications…
    As the mother of a computer “geek” (and I use that word lovingly)my problem is not the changes but the failure to explain and the “Mom, I’m busy now” hhmm… Good thing I wasn’t too busy to change your diapers ….and stop shushing us aside because “here move over mom, I can do it faster” Faster isn’t the point, our learning IS…
    So to all you wonderful computer geeks out there, call your folks and set time aside to sit down with them and answer all their questions and guild them ….trust me in the long run everyone will be glade you did….
    But, in the meantime, I’m pulling up a chair and reading very post on this site, and heck make it a zillion kisses……….t

  9. [...] can refresh old archives. engtech blogs regularly at Internet Duct Tape. His latest post was How do people use Google Reader with Internet Explorer?Subscribe to Internet Duct Tape by RSS or by email. This entry was written by engtech and [...]

  10. Jalaj P. Jha said, on August 08, 2007 at 1:56 am

    I have added a second way using Browser Extensions that adds a item “Add to Google Reader” in Context Menu that appears for a link. Code available at

    Subscribe RSS feeds in Google Reader with ease in IE

  11. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    @chicagoterrainfactory:

    Those are the same steps I outlined in my post. Six steps compared to 1-2 steps in Firefox.

    1. Right Click on RSS feed URL
    2. Copy shortcut
    3. Log in to Google Reader
    4. Click on Add Subscription
    5. Paste short cut into form
    6. Click Add

    …which seems to be the only way to do it in Internet Explorer 6 that worked reliably for me.

  12. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    @Webomatica:

    That’s the most frustrating thing I find about trying to help other people with computers… they’re missing a lot of basic knowledge of how to do common things with computers, ESPECIALLY short cuts.

    Ctrl-Z: undo
    Ctrl-X: cut
    Ctrl-C: copy
    Ctrl-V: paste

    …works in almost any application

    Alt and first letter of any command on the menu bar will open that menu bar

    WindowsKey-D toggles between your desktop and your applications
    WindowsKey-E brings up the file explorer
    WindowsKey-R brings up the run dialog

    Scrolling with page up / page down or the mouse wheel
    home and end to go to the first page / last page of a document

    Those are all tips that are taught no where.

  13. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    @Jalaj P. Jha:

    Nice one, Jalaj!

    That’s a really nice registry hack to put “add to Google Reader” as a menu item in IE. The install is still pretty complicated, but I’m going to install it for my dad next time I’m at his house.

  14. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    @Terinea Weblog:

    I’m a strong believer in that getting someone started with Firefox
    will bring them much longer happiness if they do any kind of serious
    surfing.

    I don’t understand how people can use programs without tabs. Even on
    unix I’m always using text editors and terminals with tabs because
    it’s such a common way for me to multi-task and group common tasks
    together.

    Middle-click to open in a new tab is such an intrinsic operation for
    me, I go absolutely bonkers when I work with Internet Explorer 6 or
    flash based websites.

  15. mpb said, on August 12, 2007 at 1:03 am

    //Eng at http://internetducttape.com/2007/08/06/google-reader-rss-subscribe-internet-explorer/#comment-72184

    Right click never gets mentioned and once discovered is a boon to newbies (also hovering a mouse).

    Also, a tiny screen print program so the individual steps can be immediately printed off for referral. (makes the “tutor” slow down, too.)

  16. engtech said, on August 12, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    That’s so true. I never even stop to think that people wouldn’t know to Right Click or hover.

  17. [...] The Shocking Truth: People Still Use IE: Engtech voices frustration at using IE to subscribe to feeds. [...]

  18. Rob O. said, on August 16, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    This is kind of a side note, but… I’m getting really sick of being treated like some kind of leper. Why? Let me connect the dots…

    – I still use IE.

    – I still use IE because it’s what I have to support at work – both during the day & after-hours too.

    – We use IE at work because of several web-based apps that are hard-coded for IE.

    – These are well-written (except for being hard-coded to IE) mission-critical apps by vendors with whom we’ve paid LOTS of money to do business with.

    – Those vendors are NOT prepping browser-independant versions of their apps so…

    – IE must be used to access those apps on our 1000+ PCs at work – in addition to the several hundred other remotely-connected PCs in the region.

    – Therefore, I use IE. (I prefer v7 and run it on my own PCs, but 99% of the PCs I support use IE v6 because that’s what the vendors will officially support.)

    I’ve been an IT guy for nearly 20 years. I cut my teeth on computers that stored data on tape. I was intimately familiar with DOS. I’ve used EVERY version of Windows ever released, from v1.0 up. I’m not stupid. But I also have no choice but to use the browser that’s required for the apps that I support for a living.

    And y’know what, in spite of the fact that there aren’t hundreds of hoozits, gadgets, and greasy monkeys available for it, IE gets the job done – it lets me access the web.

    So, to the the blogging community at large, please stop treating me like some sort of invertebrate pond scum because I don’t use FireFox.

    Thanks for understanding!

  19. Phil said, on August 20, 2007 at 2:35 am

    Rob O.: You sound like the kind of guy who wishes he could use Firefox ;) I’d definitely take this up with your IE specific vendors asking them why they won’t take into consideration a significantly better browser.

    Engtech: Very good points, I’ve always thought that the one problem with RSS is that it is very hard to get going with. Once you’ve found out what it is and clicked on a feed you get displayed the raw RSS, then are expected to copy and paste the feed URL to a feed reader… it’s all counter-intuitive. I personally love the Google Reader Subscribe bookmarklet which makes everything easier! Internet Explorer however… more problems than it’s worth.

  20. [...] it’s salt has an RSS feed. Unfortunately, it can be almost too easy to subscribe to blogs (depending on your web browser). Reading other blogs can be a great inspiration but they’re also a great distraction. [...]

  21. [...] all you have to do is install it to reap the benefits. I know it is arrogant of me to say so, but I do not understand how people surf the Internet without using extensions that simplify common tasks…. This guide is intended for [...]

  22. engtech said, on August 23, 2007 at 10:37 pm

    @Rob O.:

    That’s a good pro-IE rant, Rob. :)

    Did you know that you can get any IE-specific web app to work inside of Firefox with this extension? https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1419

    But much agreement that it’s a lot easier just to use the supported browser at work.

    Your rant is a good reminder not to exclude IE from the equation. I know that there are ways to install user scripts / extensions on IE to get a lot of the same hacks I love from Firefox. You’ve inspired me to investigate them more.

    The reason why I’ve gotten so frustrated with IE is that so many things work differently over there. It was very frustrating the first time I made a blog theme only to find out that all my images looked like crap because IE6 didn’t support PNG transparency. Things are better with IE7.

  23. engtech said, on August 23, 2007 at 10:42 pm

    @Phil:

    “I’ve always thought that the one problem with RSS is that it is very hard to get going with.”

    What absolutely kills me is I don’t understand how Google isn’t leveraging their products. The Google Toolbar will allow you to open all mailto: links in GMail… why don’t they put something similar for opening feeds in Google Reader with IE/FF?

    I also hate how they can’t make up their mind between promoting Reader or iGoogle, so they push the choice on us every time. It’s always bad when you push complexity on to the user instead of figuring out what the “right” thing to do yourself is.

  24. [...] be supported. If you want integrated RSS feeds in your web browser, try IE7. There’s always Google Reader, [...]

  25. Michelle said, on October 08, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Hey geek types. (I say that affectionately.) I am new to Google Reader. It worked fine for about 10 days. Today, I went to add a subscription to Google Reader and realized that the entire ADD SUBSCRIPTION box does not appear on my Google Reader page anymore. I can’t find any information on disappearing ADD SUBSCRIPTION boxes.

    I use IE7. Any thoughts?

  26. engtech said, on October 10, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    @Michelle:

    They’ve changed the interface for Google Reader and the Add button isn’t there anymore.

    If you login to Google Reader and go to Settings: http://www.google.com/reader/settings

    Then go to the Goodies tab and scroll all the way down to the bottom you can find a “Subscribe” bookmarklet. They explain how to use it there.

  27. engtech said, on October 11, 2007 at 4:30 pm

    (from email discussion) You can also press ‘u’ to get the sidebar with the add subscription link to appear.

  28. Josh said, on October 16, 2007 at 11:57 am

    Copy and paste is so hard. How would I ever live without the feature in Firefox. Wait I do.

    Your right IE should make my choice of aggregator’s job easy. Wait they do. (http://visitmix.com/university/video_rss.wmv) Oh I guess Google hasn’t wrote a tie in for their product to IE.

    How do I create a new tab. Oh I have to know a key stroke like ctrl+v to do that in Firefox. Well thats way too hard. (Sarcasm)

    Its a game of who do we blame for not giving us assumed features.

  29. engtech said, on October 16, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    @Josh:

    I think you missed the point of my article: I was trying to get my dad set up to use RSS feeds with Google Reader and Internet Explorer. Have you ever tried to help a 60 year old with their computer? Giving a 6 step recipe that involves creating new tabs and cutting and pasting RSS feed is a great way to keep him from adopting the technology when I already have to explain to him why he’d want to use RSS in the first place.

    What I should have done is given up on Google Reader and gotten him to use the built-in Internet Explorer feed reader — but he has multiple computers and I wanted him to be able to use a web-based feed reader on all of them.

    Thank you for posting the video, but it doesn’t solve the problem I had with Internet Explorer 7’s RSS support: it should be easy to subscribe to feeds in any feed reading application, not to be locked in to one product. I’m sure people would like to be able to one-click subscribe into Bloglines, RSS Bandit and the like as well.

  30. engtech said, on October 16, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    @Josh:

    Thanks for the info on the Windows RSS platform built into IE7 btw. I didn’t know about that at all. http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms684701.aspx

    (and I do realize the irony of using RSS Bandit as an example in the previous message when it does support the Windows RSS platform)

    I’m not sure how a web-based RSS reader would get access to the Windows RSS platform though without creating a desktop app.

  31. Eric said, on November 03, 2007 at 3:57 am

    In response to your blog post, I have created a google toolbar button that lets you subscribe to your RSS feeds in Google Reader from IE. Install and let me know what you think of it.

  32. engtech said, on November 07, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    @Eric:

    Thank you so much for your Google Toolbar button for add to Google Reader!

    I’m going to write about it tomorrow… would you like me to credit you at your zouric.com personal blog or somewhere else?

  33. Eric said, on November 07, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    @ engtech

    Yes indeed, you can point your readers to my blog at http://zouric.com/blogger/farwestnews

    Cheers!

  34. [...] like there is in Firefox. I couldn’t come up with a quick solution while I was there, but I did bitch about it afterwards which lead to one of my readers coming up with a solution using Google Toolbar. [...]

  35. [...] like there is in Firefox. I couldn’t come up with a quick solution while I was there, but I did bitch about it afterwards which lead to one of my readers coming up with a solution using Google Toolbar. [...]

  36. Leif902 said, on August 31, 2008 at 11:06 am

    Why use Greasemonkey? Running javascript every time you click the add feed button is a very inefficient (not that it matters) way of doing things.

    In firefox just go to about:config and change the feed reader settings (I don’t know what they are off the top of my head, and I’m now on IE8) to something like “http://www.google.com/reader/view/#stream/feed%2F%s” to give you a nice preview of the feed before you subscribe, or to whatever the fusion.google.com address is that will automatically subscribe you.

  37. rap said, on September 21, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    I have added a second way using Browser Extensions that adds a item “Add to Google Reader” in Context Menu that appears for a link. Code available at

  38. Brendan said, on October 22, 2008 at 7:38 am

    OK, so Internet Explorer DOES suck. No one-step RSS feed add to Google Reader?

    Oh, Microsoft, when will you learn?

    Thanks for the info.

  39. Jeremy said, on January 02, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I don’t know who decided that web apps were going to be the future, but they just flat out will never replace client apps. I’ve been hearing that nonsense for a decade now and while there are some cool examples (e.g. – Google Docs) they tend to be more of a novelty and stop-gap solution than anything else. I flat out refuse to use my browser as my operating system. Ok, rant over.

    I’m not trying to start a big war, but one of the main reasons you are so confused as to “why would anyone use Internet Explorer” is because you are using the Internet and your browser in a way that many people will never do. People don’t continuously throughout the day read anything so why would you expect them to read stuff from the Internet all day? And most people who do read throughout the day read from a very fixed set of sources (e.g – Wall Street Journal and local newspaper) which they have for decades and thus don’t need a one-click solution to subscribe to a new source.

    I used to use Newsgator for RSS because I could integrate it with NetNewsWire (native iPhone app) and Outlook. I would rather use both these clients on their respective devices than use the web interface in IE or FF. There was a simple right-click option in IE that said “Subscribe to Newsgator” which I never used since I don’t change my sources ever. Thus, I didn’t need Google, Google Reader, Google Toolbar, Firefox, etc to get the job done. Please try to understand that not everyone uses the Internet the same way you do and not all of us are huge idiots.

    Note, I have since moved on to Google Reader, but I still use native apps to access it (ByLines for iPhone and ReadAir and/or RSS Bandit for computer access). I find all these solutions preferable to the inconvenience of browser access and utter abomination that is the aesthetics of anything Google related.

  40. Katheirne said, on January 23, 2009 at 12:31 am

    I was showing my fiance how to set up his Google homepage to receive feeds. I have XP and use Firefox religiously. He’s on Vista and for some unknown reason deleted Firefox, which I downloaded to his computer!!! So after I show him what I’ve done, he proceeds to subscribe to a feed, but then tells me it’s not giving him an option for Google. I try to troubleshoot and quickly come to the conclusion that my otherwise relaxing evening was going to turn into wild goose chase to figure this problem out. A furious hour later, I stumbled unto this blog to find what I thought, was the truth. Internet Explorer belongs to the last century, period. Why does MS make everything so damn difficult?!?!? So the conclusion to this annoying turn of events… he downloaded Firefox and his happily subscribing.

    Note to MS, loosen the Draconian death grip, will you?

  41. [...] response to engtech’s blog post, I have created a google toolbar button that allows subscribtion to RSS feeds in Google Reader from [...]


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