Reducing Information Pollution

Is RSS part of the problem or part of the solution?

January 5, 2009 | Posted By Nathan Zeldes

In the beginning there was Email Overload. Then RSS feeds arrived on the scene, and at first they looked like an interesting alternative to email as a way for getting information to people. They had that “pull mode” aspect – you could subscribe only to feeds you needed, unlike email that gets pushed at you by other people. Of course email was still necessary for one on one communication, but RSS could replace the “blast” email newsletters and such one to many comms.

Then it became evident that there are countless feeds from blogs and web sites to choose from; before long some people had hundreds of feed subscriptions (a friend of mine had 1200!), and it seemed like the same overload would hit us all over again. For my part I doubted this; my thinking is that there’s a crucial difference: Email queues up in the Inbox with the implicit expectation that one must read it all; with RSS feeds, you can choose what to read and what to skip, and you needn’t feel bad about the skipping. Certainly I don’t.

Still, one reads of people viewing RSS as a burden, so I’d like to hear from you: what do you feel? Is RSS prone to adding to overload – for yourself, and in general? And if so, how do you cope with it?

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5 Responses

  1. Pete Weiss Says:
    October 1st, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Sometimes RSS can be used to offload e-mail subscriptions freeing up your inbox.

    Someone once said that if you read all of your RSS feeds then you are subscribed to too few ;-)

    RSS feeds require their own management e.g., links move, no longer are supported, no longer are useful, or contain non-parsable data. Reporting source problems can be challenging.

    Some sites do not provide RSS feeds, but they should.

    Some RSS sites allow you to slice and dice and simply focus on specific topics or tags (including THIS site).

  2. Ahmad Al-Kashef Says:
    January 14th, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I think RSS can be part of the problem or part of the solution depending on how you use it. That said, I think it’s part of the problem in my case. It’s easier to control things coming from one input rather than multiple sources (e-mail, RSS, telephone, cellular, instant messengers, etc.).

  3. Michael J Says:
    January 6th, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    One of the recent upgrades to Google reader is the ability to either show or NOT show the number of unread posts. It does wonders to relieve the sitting backwards on a fast moving train feeling which you more elegantly call “feed anxiety.”

  4. Sebastien Marion Says:
    January 6th, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I believe firmly that consuming feed information provides a competitive advantage which far outweighs any constraints imposed. This year, however, I am resolved to subscribe to no more than 100 feeds. This forces me to make judgment calls, and prevents feelings of ‘feed anxiety’. Shortcut keys are invaluable in terms of processing speed. Also, there are some feeds whose display preference I set to headline, while others I leave to summary. As I tend to process as though I were downhill skiing, it’s often been my habit to read more lengthy items of interest off-terminal by compiling a narrow margined document consisting of numerous articles which I can print double-sided and read at my leisure more thoughtfully.

    In the manner of ‘getting things done’ I would advocate that everyone consider applying a simple and straightforward set of rules governing how they process the information.

  5. Michael J Says:
    January 5th, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    I’ve found RSS has made my life much,much easier.

    To be clear, I’m a Baby Boomer blogger that doesn’t have a boss or needs to meet a payroll, so my experience may not apply to many readers of this blog.

    I follow the printing industry, as I spent 30 years in that industry before retiring. I use Google Reader as follows. Here’s what it looks like for me:

    First I go to the traditional sites. If they have an RSS feed, in they go into a folder marked printing. If they don’t, they disappear from my radar.

    Second, I set up a google news alert and a google blog alert for digital printing. That feed then goes into reader.

    Third, when I get the news alert I go to posts that sound interesting, if they have a feed, I put it in reader. That allows me to read headlines of every post. Much easier than stepping through a blog.

    A recent feature I found at Google Reader is a toolbar widget that allows me to capture interesting website or articles and post to the shared reader. Then there is a widget that allows me to publish the shared list directly to my blog.

    Bottom line is that it takes me about 30 minutes to scan and find “interesting to me” stuff for about 120 and counting) feeds that I get through out the day. When knew stuff comes in, I check it between phone calls or doing household chores or reading a book.

    Perhaps the real difference is whether you are using a feed to pull information or whether someone is requiring you to eat a feed as part of job responsibilities. In my opinion, if it were required by someone with the expectation that I knew everything that was in the feed, that would be awful…(and probably wouldn’t work very well to transmit information.”

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