Scott Niesen of Attensa has posted a series of articles on Feed Reading Best Practice: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four. (Attensa is a news aggregator (feed reader) that works within Outlook.) Check his notes, and then think about my responses. And come up with some of your own.
- The Difference between Feeds and Email – News versus Conversation. When I read anything (email, books, magazines, etc), I need to understand what it is and how much time I want to devote to it. Of course, the fun with web feeds is that they represent more than strictly "news." Some represent conversations just as much as or better than email thread. So, I have to beware of what I'm doing and ...
- The Secret to Speed Feed Reading - Scan and Skim. This applies for everyone, but in particular those who have subscribed to more feeds than they have time to consume. I've advised my students to skim and dive into the one or two articles that strike their fancy. Maybe even use "save for later" or other features to come back to particularly interesting articles, so you don't break stride of reviewing the news. If you find yourself diving far into a topic and tracking websites all over, step back and set aside time to look into that topic specifically.
- Organize and Categorize. Again, once you get beyond a certain number of feeds, it is nice to use aggregators that let you group or lump together feeds (articles) that relate to various aspects of your interests. Categorizing helps me with my skimming process, as my feed groupings also remind me how much time I want to spend on the group as a whole. I would still like a reader that lets me categorize feeds along several dimensions, so I can catch up on feeds from multiple perspectives. For example, Jane's articles should show up when I want to read my friends' blogs AND when I want to read about knowledge management.
- Channel Feeds to the Access Points That Make Sense. This is an extension of the organize comment. And this is something I consider a fairly advanced use case. At the most basic, it might be nice to have a centrally-maintained list of feeds but have it filtered by my context: show me work-related feeds on that computer; just friends on my smart phone; everything on my home machine.
- Look Before You Leap – Preview Before You Subscribe. I will generally add new-to-me blogs to my "New Feeds" folder and check them over the course of a few weeks. If they remain interesting, I will move them to the appropriate folder, otherwise I delete them.
- Stay on Top of Critical Information with Desktop Alerts. I have to disagree with this one. I do not want my work to be interrupted by alert bubbles that pop up. I turn them off in all applications that have them. This feels like the opposite of the next suggestion.
- Control the Flow – Schedule Feed Updates On Your Schedule. I don't need the tool checking for updates every 30 minutes, which seems to be the default for many of the aggregators I've tested. Just check every few hours - that should be plenty. This is related to the idea of turning down the frequency of checking email to reduce interruptions.
- Don't be Afraid to Delete, and Don't Feel Guilty About It. This tip from Niesen is about individual articles, but it applies equally to an entire feed. I'm not going to hurt the feelings of the blogger if I unsubscribe. It is simply that my interest has diverged from theirs for any variety of reasons.
- [Use search feeds judiciously]. I try to limit myself to one or two searches on the same topic, otherwise I get overwhelmed. I do find that different search services find different materials, so I might start with several and then cut those that don't return relevant-to-me results.
- Use [the aggregator] to Read Feeds Offline. This is the prime reason I do not use online aggregators. I like to read in the cafe, on the airplane or anywhere I might be. I don't always have access to the web, so offline reading is a must for me.
I'm sure there are other tips, but the only addition that I have is that it's important to have an aggregator that fits your needs. There are web-based, desktop applications, and some that span the middle ground. What makes the most sense for you? I also realize that most people don't have the time to be constantly testing different aggregators. When people ask for recommendations, I try to check for their needs and technology situation first.