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RSS Bankrupt? We're in a new world

January 16, 2009

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.