Tag Archives: RSS

Another attempt at the Death of RSS Readers

When I recently wrote about the Death of RSS Readers, it seemed that there was a wave of similar posts around the web (like this RSS is Dying ). A lot of people reacted to these Death of RSS sentiments with Sure, RSS is dead, just like the web is dead) which, for me,  sort of misses the point(s).

I was interested in RSS reading from a teaching perspective. I’m not saying for one minute that RSS is dead as a technology, it’s just that is knowing about RSS really necessary when introducing people to the whole world of Web2.0? Lots of the people I know who use RSS Readers have been using them for at least 5 years, maybe 10. They’ve grown with them, slowly and carefully built up a collection of feeds worth reading. Is this roughly how long it takes to massage and mulch RSS reading into something you like? Given tools like paper.li is learning about Google Reader really worth the effort?

I’m sure part of my, and others’ ennui with RSS, or rather news in general was in part similar to how newspapers are woefully slim at Christmas, when you need them most with some time to kill in the post-Boxing Day lull.

In my swapping OPML experiment with Doug and Andy, I noticed they had about 200ish feeds each. I had 200ish feeds too. Is that a natural limit? Is it point where you start to see the phenomenon I noticed whereby with different feeds you can start to receive roughly the same news. Is 200 the point when the benefits of looking for new feeds stop paying off because the news they report starts to overlap with news you already get … from sources whose names you can remember.

Interestingly, I’ve found that by adding BOTH Doug and Andy’s OPML subscriptions to my subscriptions (now 600ish instead of 200ish) I’ve found that it’s breathed a breath of fresh novelty, of similar but different news into my old favourites. Either that or people who make the news are back at work again.

I’ve also found the Feedly iPhone app has helped too (see below) because if RSS Reading can’t be done on the train then you do begin to lose interest too. (And if you are Google Reader user AND a Firefox/Chrome user and haven’t tried Feedly, go give it a go… Paul! )

So, some questions…

Is 200ish just a magic number when it comes to RSS subscriptions? If you use Google Reader, how many subscriptions do you have?

Why is subscribing so binary? Often, you want to hush a feed, rather than unsubscribe forever. Or maybe you only want to hear from a feed if people from your social circle (or network) are into a feed…

Why is there an artificial split between writing and reading? Why is there a separate application, like Delicious, for tagging web pages (that you can also write notes on)?

… and an idea!

Imagine if you will a mashup between Delicious, Google Reader and WordPress. It’s a simple enough idea called “Reading & Writing & Organising”.

All three of those tools share tags, content (posts) and URLs… why not work with them in one place rather than three.

  • You create a blog post, it contains some links and add some tags. The aggregator in the background notices both the links and tags and suggests new content from that site or author, or other content based on the tags. But ultimately you never have to “subscribe” to particular feed.
  • You tag a page as interesting and it shows up, to you, alongside blog posts you’ve written earlier as “maybe of interest. If you start creating a blog post with those tags, those pages will be “to hand”.
  • Whilst reading some news, you share a few items. Adding more text and notes as you go you decide that you’d like to publish this on your blog.

The tags you tag random content out there in the wild internet, the tags you tag “subscriptions” with ( the difference between Delicious and Google Reader starts to blur if you imagine that Delicious had have auto-discovered newer items from the ones you’ve tagged) and the tags you tag your own content with, become, or can become, the same tags.

The random notes you add to tags, can become blog posts… or not.

Your subscriptions are like your “best bits” blogroll.

And all it needs is to blur (and remove the replication of concepts ) Delicious, Google Reader and WordPress… and to remove the separation of reading and writing. As ideas go, it’s about taking stuff out rather than adding stuff in…


A blogroll that auto-subscribed to new items, and was shareable (does anyone really bother with blogrolls anymore?)

Bookmarks that were linked to YOUR WORK… and your news.

A Tag Cloud of news subscriptions… tags AND/OR content.

…. just a thought ….

Produce, Organise, Consume


I think what I’m trying to sort out in my mind is what are the main skills that people need when being introduced to all the loveliness of Web2.0.

Looking back the components might have been…

  • Having a blog or wiki where you can quickly create information and more importantly, be found (and connected with).
  • Using Delicious so that you can benefit from other people’s bookmarks, work across devices (home, work, iphone etc)
  • Using an RSS Reader to make keeping up-to-date that much easier…

And to be honest, when introducing those three tools to teams, people aren’t half creative with what can be done with crude and simple tools. But with Delicious fading and Google Reader seeming less relevant somehow, is all we’re left with Twitter and Facebook ( or twitter-based tools like Paper.li )? … for both Production and Consumption of information… with nowhere to shape, to hack or Organise our information.

In many ways these three tools never really integrated very well. Maybe that is a good thing, like separation of church and state… Maybe I’m getting old but 2011 feels more about losing choice and control than gaining new features.

My Death of the RSS Newsreader

I’ve been saying for a while now, that in terms of “information revolutions” we’re on the brink of the third wave. The first was about simply accessing information , the second about publishing information and the third is about manipulating or routing information (or data).

For years I’d assumed that RSS would play a part in the arrival of the third wave, but where have all the online RSS readers gone? Is Bloglines still “live”? What happened to Rojo? I remember a number of contenders, including desktop apps like NetNewsWire and the like but it seems now that there is only Google Reader left.

Other newsreaders like Rojo used to let me re-publish or share my news, but Google Reader doesn’t. And to be honest Google Reader is crap. Although using browser plugins like Feedly massively improve the experience of RSS it’s just not as automatic or fun as tools like Paper.li or how I imagine Flipboard (I don’t have  an iPad).

And although I have more control over an RSS account than what appears in my Paper.li or Flipboard pages, RSS feels more clunky. Images are often still shown as links, sites that post every few minutes flood your news and in general it just feels like you are too close to the technology.

Added to the clunk, is the fact that once you have a few hundred subscriptions in an RSS reader exactly where your news is coming from becomes mystifying. Especially if you’ve subscribed to a few aggregated feeds. It doesn’t feel like you are routing or even in control anymore. RSS starts to feel like an albatross.

As an experiment, I recently swapped my subscriptions (by exporting our subscriptions as OPML) with Andy over at Offmessage to see if someone with similar but different interests would enliven RSS for me. What I found was that amazingly, with almost a completely different set of news sources, the news felt the same. Or to put it another way, even with all of Andy’s lolcats, I didn’t feel I was missing out on any news, it was just coming to me via a different route.

What all of this is saying to me, given the fact that one of my roles is about sharing “best practice”, is that after years of being an ardent fan of the possibilities of RSS, I’m now doubting if it is worth the effort. RSS hasn’t delivered, RSS Readers (and by that I mean Google Reader) doesn’t do what I wanted, it isn’t putting me in control of anything, it isn’t delivering any magic and I can pretty much get “good enough” news in plenty of other ways.

A large part of this ennui with RSS has to be that, my interests are always shifting and I feel weighed down with usability or information architecture stuff, things I was interested in pre 2000. I’ve moved on but my RSS Reader hasn’t and it’s become too big to prune…. AND it doesn’t do anything to help me, it just sits there, spewing crap at me. You’d really think that Google Reader would do helpful things, like categorising news feeds, or noticing the ones you focus in on, or SOMETHING helpful.

Part of the “craft” of creating an enjoyable RSS experience is that feeds have to complement each other, there’s no point having information fire-hoses obscuring the infrequent writer. It takes time to create your own personal newspaper… and it’s almost impossible to create a collection of feeds for someone else, I’ve tried many times.

So there. You might still find RSS useful for you, well done, but given my current disappointment with it, especially from an evangelising perspective, I’m looking for a whole new way of being kept up to date. It probably will be Twitter-based, either that or paper. The walk to the newsagent will do me good.

Actually, maybe it’s just, for me, a death of news per se. If I see another “10 ways to XYZ” article again I think I might lose it. Rather than blaming Google Reader for being rubbish and slowly suffocating all the (better) competition there was, I need to look to myself and realise most news IS CRAP… and spend less time worrying about it.

But if you want to send me your exported OPML file, I’ll give it a whirl for a week and see if I feel news inspired by your picks of the internet. It can’t be worse than Andy’s pictures of cats…. can it?  I’ll let you know how I get on.

The Death of Blogging… Again!

I haven’t blogged in ages, but then, neither have you. It seems much of the blogosphere, meaning you and me, have been lured, entertained and distracted by twittering instead.

Twitter satisfies many of the needs that blogging used to sate. It’s instant, social and fun. But Twitter is so much easier, so easy that even talentless celebs can do it. And Twitter is a much better platform than blogging for “showing off” because one’s followers (or readers) are explicitly “on show”. Measurment is transparent.

But the twitter can’t half be annoying. And when I say “twitter” I mean you … and me. What I hate most is not the people who tweet what they had for breakfast which I quite like, I mean, any sentence with “kipper” in it is automatically improved in my book but the people who ruthlessly self-promote, ALL THE TIME!

Recently I was watching “Question Time” a political UK talk show. The audience and twitter alike were full of tough questions, humour and vitriol and someone (at 10:30PM) tweeted “New Blog Post: 15 ways to increase your traffic”. I’ve got nothing against self-promotion at all, it’s a dirty job and all that, but to push a crappy SEO blog post whilst everyone else is fuming about duck islands, moats and second homes apart from being beyond the pale seems unbelievably one dimensional and boring.

And whilst I’m probably more guilty than you are of mindless bandwagon jumping and I too find myself trotting out excuses about “not having time to blog” and “not quite seeing the point” I’m going to have a bash at old skool blogging again where I simply share what I’m doing, what I’ve done and what I’m thinking about doing in a “think out loud” way. Not with any alterior promotional motives, but just in the hope that it makes a connection for someone somewhere.

You never know.

p.s Like lots of people, I use Google Reader to read my RSS feeds. I had to move to Reader because NetNewsWire simply couldn’t cope anymore and neither could I. News reading had become a chore because Google Reader (apart from having a raft of usability issues) was just so bloody ugly. So thank goodness for Feedly (image above) which makes reading blogs not just easy on the eye but also has enough small usability additions to have me hooked.

Every little helps.

Is it time to tidy your RSS?

Of course it is… you may then want to try Feed Rinse , which at first glance looks useful and very nicely designed.

Except… here we go eh? ….

1. I can’t read my feeds from here, they just do washing… and deliver OPML by the look of it (or am I missing something?)

2. Could anyone be bothered to set up a rule for EVERY SINGLE feed? This is a big disappointment… they aren’t rinsing my feeds, they are delivering the soap and I have to do it myself.

I know I couldn’t… although I would be happy to set up a few global rules and then add n prune as I go. Sam has been playing with the idea of a Baynsian RSS Reader for a while where you flag certain posts to be “more like this”…

There is a huge need for a semi-intelligent RSS Reader , one where the set-up (or progamming/rule creation) is not front loaded but done incrementally, almost without the reader being aware, like an in-the-zone-gardener pottering with their secateurs and whistling.


What a lovely (looking) interface, xFruits is a tool to help me “Compose my information system” but I can’t work out what it actually does… I hopefully filled in a few fields but then nothing actually happened….

UPDATE: I kinda worked out what this site does now (I can have a URL where my feed is turned into a site or PDF)… but still have my doubts…. especially since the interface feels so clean n green but acts so brown n dirty.