TUTORIAL: How to follow webcomics

How do you follow webcomics? That might seem like a silly question. But if you’re relying on remembering when they update and visiting the site, you’re very likely to forget, and if the webcomic in question is a serial you’ll fall behind, and is it worth the bother trying to catch up? Even if it’s a gag-a-day strip, you’ll miss plenty of good strips. So I’m here to introduce you to the magic of the RSS feed and the very useful tool that is Google Reader.
Almost all webcomics run on some variety of blog software, and all blogs have an RSS feed. RSS stands for “RDF site summary”, so it’s a TLA* with a TLA in it, but that’s not important right now. Think of it as a signal that a website sends out when it updates. If you can tune in to that signal you’ll be notified of every new post.
And how do you tune in? You subscribe to the feed using an RSS aggregator, the easiest and most accessible one of which is Google Reader. Here’s where you find it:
Google Reader link
Third choice from the bottom on the “more” menu from the Google homepage. You’ll need a Google account. That shouldn’t be a big deal – if you have a gmail account or a blogspot blog, you’ll already have a Google account. If you don’t, just sign up for a gmail account, it’s easy. Once you’ve signed up and signed in, Google Reader looks like this:
Google Reader signed in
And yes, that does say “I love you with all my boobs”. Nothing to do with me, that’s just a random sample blog post they’ve thrown up. If you scroll down, the punchline is “I would say heart, but my boobs are bigger.” But anyway.
First thing you do is find something you want to subscribe to. I’ll be completely self-serving and choose my own site, paddybrown.co.uk, as you’ll all no doubt want to follow my awesome webcomic The Cattle Raid of Cooley. Here it is.
You’ll see I’ve highlighted the URL in the address bar. And drawn a circle round it, and an arrow pointing to it. Apologies if this is all a bit obvious to you, but I know people who haven’t even noticed that bar is there – you give them the URL of a website, they’ll type it into Google as a search – so I’m being as basic as I can. Click the address once to select it, and then copy it, by either clicking the right mouse button and selecting “copy”, or by pressing Ctrl and C on your keyboard.
Then go back to Google Reader, which you’ll still have open in another browser window or tab.
Google Reader subscription
Click “Add a subscription” and a box opens up. Paste the address you’ve just copied, by right-clicking and selecting “Paste” or pressing Ctrl & V on the keyboard, and click “Add”.
Google Reader subscribed
You’ll see on the left, under Subscriptions, the name of the site with a little number 5 beside it, indicating there are five new posts. Scroll down through them and that number will reduce as you read each post, until it’s down to nothing. Then, the next time I post an update, a little number 1 will appear there. I’ll go ahead and add another few subscriptions:

Google Reader more subscriptions

With some sites, like mine, the RSS feed delivers the whole post, so you can read everything without having to leave Google Reader. With others, like this site, you just get a snippet. Click on the title of the blog post and it’ll open it up at the site itself in a new window.
Pretty simple so far, I hope. But there are some sites where this method of subscribing doesn’t work. You copy and paste the URL into the subscription box, and it says “Your search does not match any feeds”. It may still have an RSS feed, and if so, you will still be able to subscribe to it. Somewhere on the site you’ll find a link that says “RSS”, or some variant on this symbol:
RSS feed symbol
Find it, right-click on it and choose “Copy link address”. Then paste that into Google Reader’s subscription box.
Sooner or later, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to end up with a great big long list of subscriptions, of webcomics, news sites, personal blogs, everything, and that can get a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, you can organise your subscriptions into folders. Select one of your subscriptions, click the “Feed settings” drop down menu, and select “New folder”.
Google Reader - feed settings
Type in a suitable name for the folder into the dialogue box that pops up, say “Webcomics”, and a little folder with your chosen site in it will appear at the bottom of your subscriptions list.
Google Reader - folder
Then you can drag any other webcomics into the folder with your mouse. You can close the folder by clicking the little minus sign to the left of the folder symbol, and it’ll tell you how many updates there are in total in that folder. You can even select a closed folder, and it’ll give you everything in all the sites in it in chronological order. You end up with something like this:
Google Reader final
All you have to do is bookmark Google Reader and call in every day or two. You don’t need to remember to check in to each of your favourite webcomics individually to see if there’s a new instalment posted – Google Reader will tell you. Isn’t that better?
*a TLA, if you can’t work it out, is a Three Letter Abbreviation.