RSS is Dead, Long Live RSS

Why you should dump 50% of your RSS feeds & a few quick tips to help you get there.

RSS is a wonderful technology that allows us to keep track of hundreds of websites without ever leaving our RSS reader, however, many of us have abandoned our bloated RSS subscriptions.

I am one of you.

For the past 3 years Google Reader has been my primary pipeline for discovering and reading the latest and greatest around the web but it has simply lost its usefulness the past 6 months. It’s value did not diminish due solely to the content but more so because I chose not to manage it well.

I suffered from excessive unread counts and the feeling of never quite “catching up”. I nurtured an “inbox mentality” that demands I process all the information from my RSS feeds. As I found myself using Friendfeed and Twitter more I was simultaneously using RSS less. While many would hail this as the triumph of social media over RSS it was more the result of not investing the time to maintain my feeds and it snowballed on me.

Then I had a moment of clarity that revealed my motivation behind my RSS hoarding. If I dared unsubscribe to any of my RSS feeds “I might miss something“. This single underlying thought process led to flood of incoming content that I could no longer consume or use. The higher the unread counts climbed the more I avoided my RSS reader altogether.

Then I found the answer in this short blog post by Brent Simmon at Inessential.com.

“The journalist in me loves the the fact that there’s so much competition in online news. But as a reader, the super-abundance is driving me a bit nuts.”

I probably shouldn’t agree — but I do.

I probably shouldn’t tell you to unsubscribe from some of your feeds. But you should.

Look: you’re going to get the news.

Eureka! I could take solace that there is a good chance that even if I don’t subscribe to 562 blogs I will most likely see the most interesting content through my use of Social Media. It is entirely incorrect to see RSS and Social Media as competing technologies when in fact they should be used to compliment one another. With this liberating theology now in place I felt free to dive into the task of pruning my RSS subscriptions. I can tell you that this is one of the most valuable decisions I’ve made in months concerning content intake.

RSS is great but if you find yourself in the same situation make the decision that it is time to clean house. Here are a few simple rules to easy the process.

  1. Inactivity – If there has been no content posted in 30 to 45 days you should unsubscribe.
  2. Rid yourself of Abbreviate Feeds – If the publisher only provides an abbreviated feed you should unsubscribe. I realize this is a highly disputed topic but honestly if you are still required to visit the website to read their content how much value are you gaining from the RSS feed? In the end my friend @AdambittheApple put it best by revealing that many of these posts come off feeling like linkbait.
  3. Tear down the Walled Gardens – If the website requires registration (free or paid) you should unsubscribe. This rule goes to the heart of using RSS and Social Media in a complimentary manner. In my experience the best content that I find I usually share via Friendfeed or Twitter. Why would I share something of value that requires a new visitor to register to see the content? This walled garden approach was developed in a world prior to social media and I refuse to enable this archaic thinking
  4. Uniqueness – If you have already seen the content of this site elsewhere via another blog or social media there is a good chance that you don’t need to subscribe to the RSS
  5. Top Fold Method – When I view a feed in Google Reader in “list view” I can scan the last 25 posts. If there isn’t anything in the last 25 posts worth reading then unsubscribe.
  6. Replace the RSS feed – If the blog offers a low value but you don’t want to completely take them off the radar see if the author uses Social Media. You might consider subscribing to their Friendfeed stream or Twitter in lieu of their RSS. This way you can still discover interesting content but preserve your RSS feed for high value information.

Finally, after you’ve reduced the number of feeds to which you subscribe use grouping to sort the feeds into more manageable chunks. Perhaps you can group them by topic or your level of interest.

In my case I’ve implemented a Newspaper approach. I have a group named the FrontPage that contains the blogs that I consider to be must reads. Then I group blogs based on topics like Local Interest, IT Security Pros, TechBlogs by Organizations, TechBlogs by People (Individuals), IT Security News, Leisure, Google, and Social Media.

By grouping my RSS subscriptions I can adjust what I consume by the amount of time I have at that moment. If I only have a few minutes I just check the FrontPage and the rest can wait till I have time to read them later. You can also easily declare RSS bankruptcy on a topical group, if I haven’t had time to read the group within a few days then mark them all as read and don’t worry about it.

Obviously you’ll have to adjust this method to your own preferences but I hope you realize that RSS still provides a great deal of value but like everything else it requires organization to be effective.

Don’t be afraid to unsubscribe, you probably won’t miss much.

For a final take check out “More news not good news” by Dan Miller of Macworld.com. His article inspired the Inessential post that I referenced above and it is a must read.

“Will I miss stuff if I cut out some feeds? Probably, though I’ll likely just read it a little bit later than I might have otherwise. That delay doesn’t bother me, especially if it means I can spend less time filtering and more time reading.”

More time reading… now that sounds better already.

11 responses to “RSS is Dead, Long Live RSS”

  1. orangejack says:

    I'm not sure I understand some of your reasons to drop RSS feeds. Mind you, I purge them every so often, but two of your suggested tests for dropping don't add up for me.

    You say to drop if they are inactive. Why? If they are inactive, then they are not contributing to the bloat or the feeling that you're behind. Why not just hide the feed (only show updates)?

    You also say that if the blog is of low value, drop the RSS feed in your reader but add it to FriendFeed or Twitter. Wouldn't that just lead to more bloat on FF instead? It's shifting the noise to a place that is much faster. Are you saying if it's of low value, put it in a place where you may or may not catch it?

    I'm with you on the abbreviated and login feeds — not a fan. Your 'top fold method' may be the best reasoning to drop. If no value in 25 posts, you have to wonder why you subbed in the first place.

    I'd suggest organizing/prioritizing with folders like 'top' for time crunch reading, and 'checking' for the feeds you're not sure about yet. Make them graduate from 'checking' into the normal or top folders. And hide any feed with no updates.

  2. tsudohnimh says:

    I agree that prioritizing your groups makes the most sense.

    Concerning inactivity if someone hasn't published in over month then I'm simply not interested in subscribing.

    In the case of moving the blogger into a social network (esp Friendfeed) I can restrict the content I see based on likes or comments and have the community help filter which posts I see.

    Thanks for reading.

  3. orangejack says:

    I guess it depends on what feed you're following. I have friends who haven't blogged in a while but if/when they do, I want to know about it – so they stay. If I don't have much of a relationship with them then it is easier to unsub from inactives.

    Good thought on restricting to likes and comments. Hadn't thought about that. How did you set that up? What you're saying is it's low value in general but if someone finds value, you want to know about it. Not bad.

  4. tsudohnimh says:

    I'm much the same way. If I have a relationship or friendship with the
    author then that adds value to their content and I absolutely don't
    subscribe.

    Concerning Friendfeed you can do this 1 or 2 ways:
    1) Use the advanced hiding option – After clicking hide on a certain piece
    of content just click “hide other items like this” and you can narrow your
    feed to only subscribe to to an author's post if it has comment's or likes.

    2) The better way is to group them into a Friend list and then use a saved
    search to show only blog entries that have likes or comments from within
    that friend list.

  5. orangejack says:

    Not a bad idea. Thanks for the discussion. I love kicking around ideas of how to do things.

    BTW, another criteria I'm thinking of using is if a RSS feed starts with Google Ads, I unsub. Don't hit me with an ad first thing! I'd rather have a summary or teaser.

  6. Tsudo says:

    I'm much the same way. If I have a relationship or friendship with the
    author then that adds value to their content and I absolutely don't
    subscribe.

    Concerning Friendfeed you can do this 1 or 2 ways:
    1) Use the advanced hiding option – After clicking hide on a certain piece
    of content just click “hide other items like this” and you can narrow your
    feed to only subscribe to to an author's post if it has comment's or likes.

    2) The better way is to group them into a Friend list and then use a saved
    search to show only blog entries that have likes or comments from within
    that friend list.

  7. orangejack says:

    Not a bad idea. Thanks for the discussion. I love kicking around ideas of how to do things.

    BTW, another criteria I'm thinking of using is if a RSS feed starts with Google Ads, I unsub. Don't hit me with an ad first thing! I'd rather have a summary or teaser.

  8. Rob Williams says:

    I guess it depends on what feed you're following. I have friends who haven't blogged in a while but if/when they do, I want to know about it – so they stay. If I don't have much of a relationship with them then it is easier to unsub from inactives.

    Good thought on restricting to likes and comments. Hadn't thought about that. How did you set that up? What you're saying is it's low value in general but if someone finds value, you want to know about it. Not bad.

  9. Keith says:

    I'm much the same way. If I have a relationship or friendship with the
    author then that adds value to their content and I absolutely don't
    subscribe.

    Concerning Friendfeed you can do this 1 or 2 ways:
    1) Use the advanced hiding option – After clicking hide on a certain piece
    of content just click “hide other items like this” and you can narrow your
    feed to only subscribe to to an author's post if it has comment's or likes.

    2) The better way is to group them into a Friend list and then use a saved
    search to show only blog entries that have likes or comments from within
    that friend list.

  10. Rob Williams says:

    Not a bad idea. Thanks for the discussion. I love kicking around ideas of how to do things.

    BTW, another criteria I'm thinking of using is if a RSS feed starts with Google Ads, I unsub. Don't hit me with an ad first thing! I'd rather have a summary or teaser.

  11. […] Una de las genuinas razones por las cuales Google Reader puede perder efectividad: Mala administración. Varios muy buenos puntos. […]

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