April 29, 2007

How Much RSS is Too Much RSS?

Engadget's Ryan Block asks the question today. "Is Engadget’s daily wall-to-wall coverage too much of a good thing?" Are subscribers to the Engadget feed, who can anticipate upwards of 30 new stories a day, inundated by having too much to read, some of which might not find their fancy?

The issue is a very real one for us on the bleeding edge of information consumption. For those of us RSS wonks who have upwards of 100 or so individual feeds, finding the time to read hundreds of posts on all topics can be a demanding task. I consistently scroll through 500 or so articles on Google Reader every weekday, and about half that number on the weekend. Engadget is one of the most prolific blogs, usurping even ESPN.com's main feed.

According to my Google Reader Trends, Engadget posted 28.3 items per day over the last 30 days. Of those 848 items, I read 100% of them. Only an aggregate newsfeed I developed for work was more busy, tagging me with new items 42.7 times a day. The other mega-feeds? ESPN.com with 26.8 items, TechMeme with 22.8, Slashdot with 20.4, Eschaton with 18.5, Talking Points Memo with 15.2, Daily Kos with 14.6, and Mashable with 14.4 posts daily.

Combined, those alone tally more than 200 posts a day, good for 40% of my reading. But in terms of quality over quantity, Engadget is among the very best. I've considered unsubscribing from Slashdot, which seems to lag Digg or Engadget these days. I actually did unsubscribe from Boing Boing a few weeks ago because the signal to noise ratio was too high. I've also considered reducing my political feeds like Eschaton and Talking Points Memo, which tend to be duplicates or feature too many "New Open Thread" type posts that don't add value to the RSS reader.

As Ryan asks what the solution is, I would argue that in Engadget's case, it's not to write less through reducing the amount of posts that are accepted. Instead, it's to better let readers know that reduced sets of feeds are available on specific topics. Engadget, like ESPN.com and other busy sites, offers the ability to subscribe to channels dedicated to Gaming, HDTV, Storage or Wireless, for example. Rather than get all 30 stories a day, the focused reader would get 2 to 10. It's not about reducing options, it's about being a smarter consumer.

I see the onus to be on the reader to better maintain their consumption of news than it is on the newsmaker to reduce their output. In the world of massive information, we as consumers should get ever more adept about how we get our news, and how we share it. So Ryan, don't worry about us being forced to read too much. Let us make the hard decisions, and you keep focused on bringing the news.


  1. Well, the beauty of RSS subscriptions (as opposed to newspaper or magazine) is that you don't have to pay. If you fall behind on your Engadget reading, you're not losing any money by marking all of the posts from the last week as read and starting over.

    There's been talk going around lately about "email bankruptcy," and the practice of letting your contacts know that there's a chance you may not have read their latest emails but that you'll have to delete them all and start from scratch. With RSS feeds, you don't owe anyone an apology. You can just start over any time you like.

    According to my Google Reader trends, I "read" over 1000 items a day. But often I'm just scrolling through news from sites like Engadget reading the headlines or looking at the pictures. When one grabs my attention, I stop and read the article. And then there are other feeds that I don't even check on most days. When I have some spare time, I read those feeds. And if I don't get to them for a few weeks, I often mark the old posts as read just to move past them.

  2. There are a few blogs that let you have custom author or topic feeds, but there are way too few.

    The biggest blog that doesn't do this is The Huffington Post. There are maybe one or two writers there I am interested in, but ten times that many writers I cannot stand. Their only option: "Raw Feed".

    No, I don't think so.