All Feeds Are Not Created Equal

Allfeeds_1When a feed has something new to say, almost all RSS readers do just about the same thing: they bold out the feed channel and display the number of new entries available for reading. Some take it up a notch and display a nice little notifier if there are new things to read (FeedDemon comes to mind, and Bloglines has one you can download). That helps as well. But that’s not enough. The truth is different feeds mean different things to me. The hallowed promise of RSS was to help us deal with information overload. As RSS becomes more and more popular (and as my subscription list grows), I often feel like I’m running in place, sifting through mounds of potentially interesting information to get to the stuff that matters to me most. For RSS to scale, I think some things need to change.

Allfeeds_2When something new comes in over a feed, I sort of liken it today to a knock on the door. I’m going about my business and suddenly I get tapped that there’s something new to read. Excellent. It’s a hell of a lot better than proactively hopping from site to site to see if anything is up. That worked well…for awhile. Today, the analogy acts out a bit differently. Every 15 or 30 minutes, my feedreader goes out and checks my 250 or so feeds. And what happens? Forty people come knocking at my door…all at once. That’s not so bad, except that different people mean different things to me. Some matter more to me than others. Some rarely come knocking, but when they do, it’s almost always worth hearing. Some show up all the time, overwhelming me with visits. I don’t want to turn them away, but I’d like to give others a chance as well.

All feedreaders today use the same, generic door knocker to let me know something’s new. I’m still left with the work of contending with tons of information. Sifting. Sorting. Flagging. Tagging. “I’ll get to it later.” It feels a hell of a lot like email. In many ways, the success of feed syndication has sort of pushed the experience back to square one.

And it’s only going to get worse. Today, we deal with information sources that are primarily of two species: blogs and institutional news sources (like magazines and newspapers). Eventually, new types of sources will arrive that are very different in nature to what we subscribe to today. Imagine a feed that notified me when inventory crossed a critical threshold. I don’t want that guy waiting at my doorstop with 30 other feeds that have something to say. The nature of that source is different, and as such, the method of notification needs to change.

Even today, some feeds matter way more to me then others. I’m still forced to seek them out, and as my reading list grows, it’s getting harder to do so. All feeds are not created equal. And as such, users should be empowered with the ability to amplify certain feeds over others. This is less about finding the stuff that matters to me and more about – in the spirit of RSS – getting the stuff that matters to come to me first.

The crowd around my front door is pouring out into the street. I’d hate to have to turn some of them away.

11 Comments All Feeds Are Not Created Equal

  1. Dan

    I am currently using Newsgator’s outlook version, I would imagine using outlook you could manage some rules to accomplish what you want.

  2. Asbjørn

    I know what you mean, I also have a lot of feeds in my program. What I did a few days ago, was to delete the big ones, and concentrate on smaller ones. I removed Digg’s frontpage feed, and get the most interesting news anyway, trough smaller sites. Download Squad e.g.

  3. Avi Flax

    I just mentioned this post over in the FeedLounge forums. Maybe they’ll think it over and come up with something. Who knows though, I think they’re still in post-launch triage, and they still have some features in development, such as an API.
    An excerpt:

    Now, I think FL is already ahead of the game on this – because it uses tags and not just categories. My most important feeds could be tagged as “important” in addition to their category/content tags. In other words, I can tag feeds with priority information and not just topic/content info. This is one of the great things about tagging as opposed to tree-ing.

  4. JamesK

    I don’t think “inventory crosses a critical threshold” would be information you would access via a feed that would be polled. It seems to me that legitimately urgent information like that would be disseminated through some real time publish-subcribe system, be that through your computer, pager, cell or smart phone.
    Those alerts should even use the same path through your front yard, so to speak, let alone wait at any door with the other fake “alerts” that a feed has fresh content.

  5. Rich Ziade

    Well, why can’t I pick certain feeds to be more intrusive than others? Why can’t certain sources sms me? Or email me? Or whatever?
    I don’t think I want one more “place” to go find out about stuff.

  6. JamesK

    If certain sources are SMSing you, then they’re doing more than just publishing an RSS file, which seems to breaks down the whole paradigm. I suppose if there were some middleman feed aggregator that could be configured to do that, then maybe it would be transparent to the publisher of the feed. This probably wouldn’t work with a client side feed, because you might not have your computer on or be in front of it when the feed is updated…
    I think having one place to find out (relatively speaking) unimportant stuff and have the truly important stuff find you is the way to go.
    Hopefully to manage the information that seems to think it needs to “find you” we all have some buffer that’s smart enough to find out if information X is actually more important than activity Y I’m doing right now.

  7. Terry Heaton

    First of all, I enjoy your site.
    As the stream of information grows to fire hose capacity, we’re going to need aggregators and their feeds to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is where the growth potential exists and where RSS will find new life. These aggregators will have to behave themselves or risk being ignored, and I think trust networks will play a role.
    I helped create such a site in Nashville, where we’re aggregating 400 local bloggers. Subscribing to that site’s feed gives you access to the best of the 400, which I’ll take any day.
    Keep up the great work.

  8. 注册美国公司

    Hopefully to manage the information that seems to think it needs to “find you” we all have some buffer that’s smart enough to find out if information X is actually more important than activity Y I’m doing right now.


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