This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Feed overload and your tools

I'm one of the hopeless people who have more than 300 feeds in my aggregator.  While there are less than 50 that I check regularly, these others await my free time or my fast stroke of the "mark as read" key.  How do we come to deal with all these feeds?  Beyond having a good aggregator / news reader, what do we do?

I think this conversation about aggregator features gets a little confusing, if you aren't paying attention to the problem you are trying to solve.  Here are some Feed Overload problems one might encounter and want to address with a better tool:

  1. Make standard reading content easy / comfortable / convenient.  This covers things like organizing feeds by groups, tagging or sorting in some way.  I like options that let me see the same feed in multiple contexts ("friends" and "knowledge management").  This is one of the first things I see when checking out aggregators, so they have to get it right for me.
  2. How to continue finding new feeds in a reasonable way?  Ilya Grigorik talks about this in Reinventing RSS Readers.  I almost wonder whether aggregators should do this for me, or if it is part of a different research process that is informed by my reading habits.
  3. Beyond grouping and adding feeds, how can the aggregator help me prioritize my reading?  What is new?  What is the buzz?  This goes down to the article level and crosses all feeds.  Taming the RSS beast by Matt Linderman at 37signals discusses this aspect.  I consider threading / grouping articles an important aspect of this, as I've mentioned before.  I also see from the comments that things like Digg or Tailrank might provide this in a way.

I suspect there are more aspects, but they aren't coming to mind.  Too many holiday sweets.

Numbers 2 and 3 are frequently intertwined, and I think it might be useful to separate them.  In one case (2), I am looking for recommendations of new articles or feeds that might be interesting to me.  I have not (yet) found any value in the various social / collaborative ranking services that suggest articles or feeds to me based on a collective "interestingness" ranking.  There seems to be too high an activation energy for these tools to learn who I am and what my interests are.

In the other case (3), I want some structure placed on what I'm already reading to highlight common threads or hot topics, or even just the latest news.  I haven't had much luck (or patience) training aggregators to do this for me -- something that Grigorik mentions as well.  This is particularly troublesome in river-of-news aggregators, where one can't "see" which articles I find most interesting because they are displayed together.  And I don't like tools that require that require me to do something special as I read (stars / marks / interestingness).  I find that rating or otherwise marking articles gets in the way of what I want to do when I am reading: READ.

Finally, there is always the option to throw out the no-longer-interesting feeds.  I try to cull the collection from time to time, but, I am an inveterate collector.  The best readers make it easy for me to shuffle out feeds, just as they make it easy to shuffle in new ones. 

I arrived at these discussions via a Skype recommendation from Marjolein Hoekstra to check out Adam Kalsey's entry on this discussion, Solving feed overload.

Happy New Year

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