When 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.
When 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.