RSS : A Different Beast

The posting below on Onfolio, Pluck and other in-browser feed readers raises an interesting point about RSS and how people use it.
If we step back a second and think about the various types of use cases that utilize RSS, you see a pretty clear pattern emerge.
One of the great advantages of RSS is that it allows you to glean over large amounts of information without actually visiting entire web sites and determining if anything new is up or worth reading. A nicely organized feed list provides a nice birds-eye view of the world of content you’d like to follow.
It gets interesting when we think about whether we’re going to dive deeper and deeper into the content. Generically, there appears to be five levels of altitude (if you will) in RSS:

  1. List of Channel Groups.
  2. An Individual Channel Group.
  3. A Channel and its Headlines.
  4. A Channel and its headlines and blurbs/descriptions.
  5. A Channel’s Website.

If you consider the above, each requires a greater level of commitment and time to digest. For example, I have about eight channel groups that I use to organize my feeds. Admittedly, I focus on four or five groups on a regular basis. The rest I may visit on occasion or less often.
Among the ones I do visit, there are certain feeds within those groups that I’m a fan of or who’s content I really value. If they have anything new to say, I want to know about it. This isn’t the case with all the feeds, just some. Nevertheless, even the ones I care less about I’d still like to quickly scan the headlines to see if something catches my eye.
All of this leads to a direct correlation between how much I value a particular channel/feed and how willing I am to tolerate digesting additional details. If it’s a cherished feed, I don’t mind diving into the third or fourth level.
Feed readers out today are applying the Microsoft Outlook paradigm and I think this is flawed. Email is a different beast than RSS. My Inbox is one-dimensional compared to the varied world of sources that provide me with feeds. Each source is – in its own way – its own Inbox, with varying levels of importance, interest and context.
So what’s the best way to address this? Flexibiilty. Make it easy for me to glean over a collection of feeds and their entries. FeedDemon speaks to some of this by providing some openness with style sheets for newspapers and the like. This is a great first step, but the novice user isn’t going there. I’ve got all sorts of ideas about how an interface can better handle RSS, but describing it in prose isn’t very worthwhile.
RSS applications are brand new and I think the reflex reaction is to lean on conventions that people use and understand today. This works…sometimes. In time, I think the applications that handle RSS will evolve along with the technology itself.

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