February 27, 2009

Should RSS be Jettisoned On the Information Journey?

By Eric Berlin of Online Media Cultist (FriendFeed/Twitter)

A Stay N' Alive piece (is there a cooler blog name than that?) by Jesse Stay called My Hiatus From RSS – Is RSS Really Necessary? made me think about my own ongoing challenge/struggle/scramble to grapple with the massive number of news stories, blog posts, comments, tweets, and on and on that might potentially be of use, interest, or service to my own work on any given day.

In other words: with so much stuff going on every second of every day, how can we best make sense of it all, and efficiently if possible?

Jesse, taking heed of advice given to him by Forrester Senior Analyst and blogger Jeremiah Owyang, is experimenting with a plan that I toyed with some months back: abandon the RSS reader completely. Now, Google Reader is such an important part of my information-devouring day that it seems somewhat radical to give it the heave ho. But it also takes a lot of time to get down to zero new items. And I must admit that at times I wonder: is it worth it?

Not so much from an existential standpoint, but from an efficiency standpoint, it's always worth examining what the best way to get the most out of culting out on online media. So here's a quick breakdown of different ways, different paths, and different strategies of absorbing information on the wild web.

I'll start with RSS as it remains such an important part of my online day. I'm continually making changes to how I have things setup though so that I can get the most out of Google Reader, and in the least time. For example, noticing a seemingly simple feature – list view as opposed to the default expanded view – has saved me an enormous amount of time in getting to the articles I'm most interested in.

I'm not a big keyboard shortcut guy for specific sites, but some people love them. Here's a big list of keyboard shortcuts for Google Reader if you want to play for super efficiency points.

Another thing I've done is to create folders to separate high volume websites and blogs from lower volume ones. For example, I have a folder called "online media – big" where I have feeds for ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, The Inquistr, and so on, whereas "online media" includes a treasure trove of blogs spanning A VC to WinExtra.

Smart people networks
I think of social media platforms like Twitter, FriendFeed, and Facebook as "smart people networks" that allow for the sharing of relevant information from friend networks that are customized to individual preferences. Jesse seems to be on board with FriendFeed in particular:

If there was ever a better reason to be on FriendFeed, this is why you need to do it. Even if you don’t participate, make sure your blog is populating FriendFeed (I would add it to Facebook as well). This will be how I obtain my news. Now, instead of just tracking news, I’ll be tracking Twitter, Blogs, Youtube, and more through a Friends List on FriendFeed. If I was subscribed to your blog before and you’re on FriendFeed, I’m now tracking your blog via that method. I’ll be “media snacking”, as Robert Scoble calls it, and IMO, this is the future of news discovery, and takes much less time.
For a lot more talk and discussion of my feelings about Twitter and Friendfeed versus Facebook, check out this story on louisgray.com (and the comments are still kicking!).

E-mail alerts
Some number of years ago, I used e-mail alerts to scan Google Alerts notifications and RssFwd (recently shut down) to pipe RSS feeds to my e-mail account. These days, I've mostly moved my Google Alerts RSS feeds over to Google Reader for easier management.

I can see some utility in using e-mail to manage some influx of news – particularly breaking news alerts – but with a full declaration of bias I'd have to think that a solid RSS reader is going to be far more effective in handling a large volume of data.

Meme trackers and large aggregation portals
I'm talking about Techmeme, Memeorandum, and Google News mostly here, and throw in Drudge Report for kicks. I'll check out these sites during the day when I very quickly want to scan very hot news as its breaking.

Standalone sites
This is the old school approach, which probably more people (read: the non-tech elite regular folk) take part in than anything else. I know an online writer that used a system of hundreds of bookmarks for his job until very recently, for example. For some reason, I like to take this approach every now and then when I'm mobile. TechCrunch on my BlackBerry while on line at the supermarket, that kind of thing.

"Viral" / breaking news
Another category of sorts I think is the news that breaks so quickly and so hard that it's the kind of thing that everyone talks about and covers for a period of hours, days, or longer as the story unfolds. When something truly breaks above the noise, I find that I'll start getting a combination of text messages, instant messages, and e-mails on top of the typical online media layer of information. If the television happens to be on, this is a good way to get another level of coverage (cable news channels live for these kinds of stories to break). Twitter is great at picking up this level of news quickly as well as you'll see everyone start talking about the same thing at the same time.

I must admit that it's tempting to pull the plug on one major category of the above in an effort to increase productivity, but I can't quite get there as yet, particularly when it comes to RSS and Google Reader. If anything, I'm continually trying to train myself to look for the kinds of stories that will most benefit me and suit my interests, to participate via social media tools such as Google Reader shared + note, Twitter, FriendFeed, blog comments, and so on as much as I can, and to try to waste as little time as possible during my online day.

It's not always easy!

Read more by Eric Berlin at Online Media Cultist