Winning The RSS Race

The RSS Race

I’m a long time user of Google’s RSS reader, and it changed my life. I’m not kidding. Google is the first RSS reader I’ve ever used. I started using an RSS reader because Google released one, and I have a habit oftrying out Google’s new services. Call me a Google Fanboy, if you must. Anyway, after using an RSS reader, I was hooked.

I’ve never been one to follow the news. I hate the newspaper industry with passion. Even the name makes me cringe. Newspapers are a method of delivering news on paper. Paper is an expensive delivery form, slow and wasteful. Paper is a byproduct, for the lack of better delivery systems. Then we get to the news. We don’t need journalists to deliver news. We need them to verify facts, summarize ideas and filter out noise – all the things the journalists claim bloggers fail to do. However, most of what I read in the newspaper is rubbish, written by someone who understands nothing of the subject and edited by someone who must please the advertisers.

Malcolm Gladwell told a great – albeit probably fictional – story about the beginning of his career as a journalist. It was recorded live at The Moth. You can listen to it here (mp3). Well worth ten minutes of your time.

Blogs, on the other hand, are completely different. There are a few archetypes of blogs that I’ve encountered, when the most commons are:

  • Personal Diary – the personal diary writer just needs to vet, and they do it on the internet instead of into a little locked book. I have met, I have ate, I have slept, I am anxious, I am in love, I am confused, I will be on vacation, I will be thirty five, I will die. If you don’t know the writer, I’ve quickly discovered, these are really very boring.
  • Professional Blog – Blogs meant to teach, to share a point of view. Stock trading, coding, blogging, cooking, origami, etc. are all fair game. If you have an interest in any subject at all, there’s a good chance you can find a few blogs worth following that you can learn more about the subject. These bloggers are often immersed in the subject.
  • News Distribution – usually these blogs have multiple writers, they tend to write about anything new in their field of expertise and they post several time a day. In terms of content value, they create very little. All they do, just as the newspapers do, is aggregate, summarize and filter data from other sources. It’s quantity over quality.

So by now I have over 110 sources in my RSS reader, almost all of them are professional blogs in the categories of: web development and code, venture capital and entrepreneurship, cloud and high scalability, design (these tend to change more often), a few friends (mostly personal diaries) and an assortment of interesting thinkers of various fields I’ve encountered.

Running Behind

By rule of thumb, a blog I follow will post less than once a day. I just don’t have the time to follow anyone who’s chattier than that. As always, there’s a long tail, and most of my daily read focuses around about 10-20 most prolific sources.

This is a lot of reading. It’s hard to keep up.

Lately, I’ve noticed I’m losing the RSS race. I skim more, I focus less. I’m clicking through the items and I just want to mark cleaning my reading queue as done on my to-do list. I tried reducing my reading list. I’ve went through the list and cleared a few blogs, but this has done no good. All of the blogs I’ve deleted were inactive.

With this uneven distribution, I can’t control the throttle with any level of finesse. I can follow or un-follow a blog. I can’t ask for the best five posts from my top twenty blogs.

Some of these blogs are connected. In the venture business, perhaps since it is such a small pond, it seems everybody is reading and posting reply-posts on everybody else’s blogs. This means that for a lot of subjects I get duplicates and triplicates of posts on the same subject (The subject of where to open a startup had four or five different posts on the same week). I want to get only one of these posts, or have the aggregated somehow.

Also, in every blog there are themes I’m less interested in (for example, talk dates and conferences in the US).

I could really use something to help me sort out the trash. The only service I know of that tries to help is my6sense, which seem to be focusing on the iPhone for some reason, so I can’t use it. They claim they can learn what is relevant to me through my behavior and filter or sort my reader appropriately.

My Perfect RSS Reader

Here’s what I need for my perfect RSS reader:

  • Filtering – As mentioned above, filtering by content relevance to me. I want to be able to filter topics (either by content or blog tags). Also, I want the reader to automatically remove duplicates. Anything that is too close to something I’ve already read, shouldn’t appear. I don’t care if I miss anything, really. A good blog post will probably find its way to me through other means as well (social media FTW).
  • Serendipity - I use blogs for learning. When I was building a few web sites for the first time, I followed a few web development blogs. I was also into user interface and design for a while. Later, I removed most of these and started looking for blogs about databases, IT and cloud computing. Now it’s all about venture capital. I can’t follow everyone, so I remove blogs when they are no longer “useful”. I’d still love to get great posts from any of the subjects I was once interested in.
  • Throttle - most blog authors tend to post in themes. They have subjects they are passionate about, and they tend to write about them a lot. I tend to get bored after a while, but I don’t want to give up on a blog entirely. I need to throttle them down to make room for new blogs.
  • ConversationAll RSS readers fail here. RSS is just so bloody passive. It is a way of pulling information, but provides no interface to pushing information back. I want to be part of the conversation. Reading all the comments? Heck no! But I will want to see some of the comments, and probably post my own comment every once in a while. I haven’t heard of an RSS reader that solves the conversation issue. (In fact, most blog commenting systems fail here as well. I’ll rant about this at some other time)

My Life Line To New Information

Since I haven’t found my perfect RSS reader, I will probably have to develop it myself. This is part of my effort to take control over the data I’m consuming and my Internet browsing experience. For now, I dub this effort “LifeLine“. LifeLine is my dream Social Media/RSS Reader/Email client, which I’ve been thinking of for a while, but haven’t started working on yet. Under the LifeLine category, I’ll post my ideas about the various features I require. If you know of any service that does any of these, please, let me know and save me the trouble.