There are several writing events going on this month. National Blog Posting Month, hosted by BlogHer, National Novel Writing Month, the event that started it all back in 2006, and Nanopablano, a fun take on BlogHer’s yearly event, to name a few. Participating in any one of these is a huge demand on time and attention, but they’re also a great way to meet new people and find new things to read and gain inspiration from.
All of the content being produced, (with the exception of the content that lives only on social media), is consumable through a feed, which is either RSS or some other compatible technology. Consuming content through its feed means that you don’t have to keep your eye on social media, and can catch up on the content you want on your own terms.
What is this RSS you speak of? What’s a feed?
RSS stands for “Really simple syndication”, and it’s the mechanism through which everything from blog posts to podcasts are delivered and consumed. A podcatcher, (that thing you listen to your favorite podcasts with), is a feed reader with built-in ability to process audio and video. But at its heart, it’s still a feed reader.
Anyway, back to those writing events. Of course you can consume the content through Facebook and Twitter, but what if you don’t want to open up your social media client to find out what’s going on with the writing event you’re participating in?
Enter a feed reader
This is where RSS, (and an RSS reader), comes in. You can add either all the feeds from all the lists of links associated with your event, or just the ones you’re interested in, and browse through them at your leisure.
Yeah but I thought WordPress.com was a blogging platform.
It is, but your WordPress.com account also gives you access to a feed reader that allows you to consume, and even export and import, the feeds you keep up with. It’s not the only feed reader you can use. there are plenty of apps for both iOS and Android, as well as for Windows and OSX. But the advantage to using something like WordPress.com is that all your feeds are stored in one place, and can be accessed from any device. And with a little work, you can use it with a screen reader. More on that below.
The Standard Signup Process
In order to use the WordPress.com reader, you’ll need a WordPress.com account. You may already be familiar with this if you’re running a self-hosted installation of WordPress and the Jetpack plugin, because in order to authorize Jetpack, you need a WordPress.com account.
To sign up, visit WordPress.com and click or press enter on “sign up”. Next, you’ll be presented with a screen that asks you what kind of site you’re creating. Choose an option and you’ll be taken to the next step in the account setup process.
The next screen asks you to describe your site. Enter a brief description in the box. Once that’s done, you’ll see a “continue” button, and you can move to the next step in the process by pressing that.
The next screen asks you what you want your site to look like, and presents several options:
- A list of my latest posts
- A welcome page for my site
- A grid of my latest posts
- An online store
Choose one of these options to move to the next screen.
Next, you’ll be given the option to choose a theme, which you can change later. The themes WordPress.com shows you are based on the kind of look you’ve chosen for your website. You can pick a theme now, or skip this step and choose later on.
The next screen will walk you through picking a domain. A domain is what people type into their web browser’s address bar to reach your site. You can type a keyword into the search box, and you’ll then be shown which domains/keywords are available. The free options will have WordPress.com at the end, and there are paid options without WordPress.com included. Select the one you want, and move to the next screen.
You’ll be asked to pick a plan on the next screen. Pick the free one, unless you want to pay for one of WordPress.com’s other plans. If you’re a screen reader user, you can press “b” to move directly to the “select free” button, and press enter or space on that.
Next, you’ll be asked for your email address, a username, a password, and you’ll be asked to agree to WordPress.com’s terms of service. Enter the information requested, check the box, (after reading the terms of service to make sure you are willing to agree to them), and click on or press enter on “create my account”.
Signing Up for An Account Without A Blog
If you already have a self-hosted blog, or a blog on another platform, you might not want to create a second blog on WordPress.com. That’s fine, because there’s an alternative process you can follow if you just want to take advantage of the WordPress.com Reader without creating another blog or website. Fill in your email address, choose a username and password, agree to the terms of service, and then click on or press enter on “create my account”.
Using the WordPress.com Reader to Consume Content
Once you’ve either signed up for a wordPress.com account, or logged in with the account you already have, you can begin taking advantage of the WordPress.com Reader to consume content. It’s the first thing you’ll see when you log in. Screen reader users should note that, for the time being, it works best with Firefox and NVDA, the only free (as in freedom) and free (as in freely-available) screen reader on the market. The reader will work with Jaws for Windows and Internet Explorer 11, but I’ve found that Firefox and NVDA are the best browser and assistive technology combo to use.
The WordPress.com Reader, as with all other sites, looks very different to a person who doesn’t use assistive technology than it does to a person who is an assistive technology user. Both groups of users start at the same place, a listing of posts from the sites you follow, in chronological order, with the newest at the top. Both also see the headline of the post, an excerpt if available, an image if available, and thumbnails of any other images in the post. From this point onward is where the differences come in.
For those who are not assistive technology users, there are a series of tabs on the left side of the screen. For assistive technology users such as those who use a screen reader, these tabs appear as a list of links under the heading “Streams” at heading level two. If you’ve already got posts appearing in the “following” section of your reader, you’ll need to press ctrl+end to exit the infinite scroll, and navigate backwards through the headings, until you get to “streams”.
Once you’re within the list of links under the “streams” heading, press enter on “manage” to follow new sites or edit the ones you’re already following. This includes sites you’ve subscribed to by email. Sticking with our example of this month’s writing events, the process to add sites to follow looks similar to this.
First, visit the official blogroll (list of links) for your preferred writing project. With that tab open, you can right-click on each link, navigate back over to your WordPress.com “manage” tab, and paste the link into the search box. Once you press enter, if the site has an RSS feed, it will be added to the “followed sites” section of your WordPress.com reader. If you’re looking for sites to follow, The NaBloPoMo list will be published on November 7, and the NaBloPablano list has already been published.
Whether or not you’re participating in a writing event this month, keeping track of the sites you like to read is a lot easier when you’re doing it from one place that’s not your favorites list in your browser on one computer. This tutorial references specific lists of links for specific events, but you can also apply it when you’re browsing social media and you come across a site or six hundred you’d like to follow, and be able to access whether you’re on your computer or on the go. To everyone else participating in writing events this month, good luck, and to the rest, happy reading.