RSS Bankrupt? We’re in a new world

evolution_feed.pngI’ve become a big fan of FriendFeed lately. On that service I keep seeing the same exclamation come up again, and again, and again. People anxious over the unread count in their feed readers. Reading feeds becomes work, a chore, managing subscriptions and requiring active thought and scrubbing in the handling of news sources.

Some people say, suck it up, new media requires sweat, work, tears, gnashing of teeth to stay on top. Other people say don’t use a feed reader at all.

I think this is a highly limited and foolish way to approach things.

We are in a new world of news, syndication, and feeds. The feed reader was only one model of how one can consume these kinds of resources. Feed readers were built to approximate email clients since that was a known paradigm. This worked early on, but is now a fundamentally flawed way to read any reasonable quantity of news.

We’re stuck with some old ideas about read/unread that are very hard to shake.

Originally the read/unread count helped alert you that there was new content available for reading. in the new world there is always something new for you to read, accept it. You should decide when you want to read news, not have the reader tell you when you must read the news.

Originally read/unread was modeled on email, every item demanded action. New world, you do not have enough energy/time to engage with every item, get over it. This isn’t true for everyone, but I would argue for the vast majority of people it is. If you accept that you will not see every item, it frees you to consume a larger quantity of sources. It is in this variety of sources that often times more interesting relationships surface (different takes on the same underlying story for example).

Originally, blogs were single voices in the wilderness, miss one post and you may never hear the important ideas. In the new world there are a lot more bloggers and news concentrators every important idea is echoed, discussed, rehashed, and reblogged the chances of you missing a big idea, are frankly slim to none.

The solution? I think we’re still evolving our consumption models of news. The most effective current implementations are forms of the “River of News” idea first popularized by Dave Winer. There are several feed magazine / feed skimming sites that are, in one way or another, rivers of news.

This feels a bit like a personal crusade for me. I’m no stranger to feeds. We started Grazr to address *exactly* this problem over three years ago.

Much of our technology is based on feeds. Feeds are becoming an ever-increasing conduit of news and data but we think the subscription model or ‘unread inbox’ way of reading feeds is broken. It is our belief that people will increasingly want to experience information, not be slaves to it. This is where the name “grazr” comes from, grazing information, not drowning in it.

We failed to get much traction with our ideas back then, but I think the time is starting to become right for real feed consumers to look at not just their read/unread count, but *how* they engage with the news.

Grazr still has some problems (some pointed out with gusto by Robert Scoble some months back). Unfortunately with the current climate, and limited resources, we’ve shifted our development attention. Grazr is still there, but we’ve moved on to some other products, using our feed database, feed processing technology, and search technology.

In it’s current form, though, Grazr will allow you to upload your sub list (from say Google Reader) and create a single river of news from it. Again hat tip to Dave, but it really is a better way to consume the majority of content.

There are two really strong uses of the Grazr Reader IMHO. The first is to launch Grazr in the firefox sidebar and use it as a way to rapidly scan the latest headlines. Pop open, scan down, close… done. The second is that we have a slightly optimized version for the iphone. As a quick scan of the latest news with no read/unread guilt, I really haven’t found anything better. I bookmark a couple of topics on one of my home screens.

Even if you don’t use Grazr, consider using other tools for the consumption of news (especially in a river of news format). You might be surprised how much more news you’ll see, and how much more guilt free the whole process will be.

We’re in a new world.

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  • http://michaelfruchter.com/blog mfruchter

    Mike,

    I may be one of the rare few who actually like Google Reader the way it is. I think if people take advantage of the feature set it has it would not be so overwhelming. I do agree though with your points, there needs to be a new paradigm shift on how we view and consume RSS. It's very oblivious from the string of “abandon your RSS readers” posts, that the email client model for RSS is simply not working anymore for the majority, and not the minority.

    I'm going to take a look at Grazr in the next few days. It looks like an interesting application. I'm not much for RSS in my Firefox sidebar, but willing to give it a test run with fairness.

    Mike

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Hey Mike. I know some people really like the way Google Reader is now. I like to analogize it to the newspaper. There are the select few that decide they want to read every article, the whole paper, from A to Z as it were. It's not wrong to read that way, but it is the minority. Feed readers enforce that mental model. Most people scan the paper looking for headlines that catch their eye. They only read the things they might find interesting. Again, it's not the “right” way to read, but it does seem to match the larger population. If you increase the volume of sources, this natural human tendency to scan/filter allows you to process much greater amounts of information.

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Also in regards to Grazr, don't worry too much about reviewing it. We built the service as engineers and “feed nerds”. We built *waaay* too much technology, and tried to make it too powerful. Case in point, Grazr isn't really a “firefox sidebar” reader, it's a small piece of code that can act that way, or as a widget to publish on your blog, or as a full stand alone feed reader. We also tried to implement the full vision of Dave Winer's OPML spec. This means you can take other people's reading lists and “include” them as live resources inside your own lists browsing dynamic information hierarchies. When people would ask “what *is* it?” we frankly have never come up with a satisfactory answer. We've ended up moving Grazr into more of a “labs” / “technology demonstrator” kind of role with the possibility of coming back to it later if our other products take off.

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Hey Mike. I know some people really like the way Google Reader is now. I like to analogize it to the newspaper. There are the select few that decide they want to read every article, the whole paper, from A to Z as it were. It's not wrong to read that way, but it is the minority. Feed readers enforce that mental model. Most people scan the paper looking for headlines that catch their eye. They only read the things they might find interesting. Again, it's not the “right” way to read, but it does seem to match the larger population. If you increase the volume of sources, this natural human tendency to scan/filter allows you to process much greater amounts of information.

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Does it go from blog to FriendFeed?

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Does it go from blog to FriendFeed?

  • Anonymous

    I find qr on many products now

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    It’s become kind of a game, counting the number of times I see QR codes now in a day. Store windows, magazines, posters… it’s definitely increasing in frequency.

  • CamMi Pham

    What is wrong with your email system. I cant send my qr code to the email

  • http://mikepk.com mikepk

    Should be fixed now!

    Since SMI is email-based, it gets bombarded by huge amounts of spam emails. Sometimes the volume of “bad” emails cause the system to go down (even with filtering, sometimes the amount that gets through spikes). Since SMI is a free service. and a side project., I can’t guarantee 100% uptime on it. Hopefully it’s still useful though!