Considering again the path of the river

After a couple month trial, I’ve decided to move back to Google Reader from Shaun Inman’s Fever. Originally, I made the migration on the allure of several shiny gems: a gorgeous interface, code that I could host on my own server, a refresh rate I could dictate with cron, and an innovative approach to filtering the signal from the noise. With each feed you add, either as Kindling you read on a regular basis or Sparks to feed the fever, the links count towards “what’s hot”, a visualization of the most popular stories for any given time period based on the information flow you’ve curated.

The deal breaker, however, is the mobile interface. In terms of reading experience the two RSS readers are comparable but sharing from Fever is a multi-step pain. Google Reader is at most a two-step process: open the item in a new Mobile Safari tab and hit the Tweetie bookmarklet. Because Fever is a standalone web application on the iPhone, I have to copy the link, close the application, open Tweetie, and then paste the link. I do a significant percentage of reading on the go, so it’s back to Google Reader.

It’s also a golden opportunity to again rethink how I structure my information flow. The art of how people organize their RSS readers is fascinating and writing about it offers tremendous learning potential; consider this a nudge to reflect and articulate how you’re managing your information flow.

My approach is to organize feeds by both priority and topic. I originally started with three priorities, A, B and C, and slimmed that down to A and B when I moved to Fever. If it’s a relatively low traffic feed with content I’m very interested in, then I’ll drop it in the “A-List” bucket. Publications that fit in this category include Daring Fireball, Nieman Journalism Lab, Publishing 2.0, Snarkmarket, and Open the Future. The “B-List” bucket acts as a second tier of importance and includes sites like … My Heart’s in Accra, /Message, and Oregon Media Central. Feeds I’d like to read/skim on the days I have the time to, or that I don’t mind marking all as read, fit into different topical buckets including Business & Economics, Education, International Development, Media & Journalism, and Technology.

This functions, but I’m ready for something new with a couple of goals in mind. First, I’d like to add more feeds to my stream. In the move from Google Reader to Fever, I culled my subscription list down to 262. This metric says “amateur web worker.” So, secondly, in the process of adding more feeds to my stream I need an approach that adds more nuance to my prioritization system. The filtering offered by Fever was this in parts, however I don’t believe I had the breadth of data to make it a useful daily tool. Whether using Google Reader’s system of folders can actually scale remains to be seen, but I shall experiment. And continue searching for other peoples’ approaches to structuring their information flow.

Later: There’s an additional piece to this puzzle. I’m obsessive compulsive about getting my RSS reader to zero nearly every day. This I am proud of. What it means to my method of parsing information is that I ideally want to weight everything in such a manner that I maximize the my efforts in relation to amount of time I have.


Mathew Ingram December 19, 2009 Reply

Have you tried Feedly? I have been using it for over a year now as a front-end to my Google Reader feeds, and it is excellent — and keeps getting better. Provides a magazine-style interface to your feeds, but also does some smart filtering based on your reading habits etc.

Daniel Bachhuber December 19, 2009 Reply

I haven’t ever used Feedly, but thanks for the recommendation. I’ll try it out. How many feeds are you reading in it, and are they structured in any way? I think I like Google Reader’s interface well enough; it’s the challenge of prioritizing, or weighting even, my information flow that’s the tough nut to crack.

Lori Todd December 19, 2009 Reply

I have been very tempted to try out Fever, perhaps allured by it’s fancy UI and the idea of being able to avoid skimming 300 redundant items.

I need to add priority to my system, but generally I’m set up to use Will Stranathan’s Advanced Google-Fu technique:

Lori Todd December 19, 2009 Reply

Also, I have tried Feedly but I never really “got it.” Perhaps it’s time to revisit it? Not sure how it would work mobile, though, and I’m keen on having my Reader and Starred Items pinned to my iPhone homescreen.

Ryan Sholin December 21, 2009 Reply

Lately, my Google Reader habit = check search feeds, troll comment view, scan everything shared by people I follow, and a quick ‘sort by magic’ glance at my mainline subscriptions. I might do that a few times a day, but I rarely get to Zero anymore.

Mixed feelings about it. On one hand, if it’s important, it’ll find me, usually via Twitter. On the other hand, I pay more attention to certain niches than everyone I follow, so I want to see posts on VentureBeat that not everyone “likes” or “shares” — right now I’m losing that a bit, especially when I sort by magic.

Andrew Spittle December 22, 2009 Reply

Nice post Daniel. I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a while and want to take the time to fully reply through a post of my own but suffice it to say that Fever still works for me.

The mobile quandary with Fever being a standalone app and all is a good point but you don’t *have* to access it as a standalone app. You could just have it as a bookmark in Mobile Safari. That might lessen the friction there.

I’m personally able to structure my information equally well in Fever and Google Reader. The biggest issue that I have with Google Reader is that reading simply isn’t fun. I think it suffers from feature bloat and has so much crap crammed around the content that I find it extremely difficult to process information. Just my two cents. Look for a more fully thought out post from me in a couple days.

Zack Shapiro December 23, 2009 Reply

Great post, Daniel.

I just bought Fever the other day and I’m eager to try it out. I’m having some authentication issues as their system can’t recognize the code that they gave me authorizing my use of Fever.

I’ve been hesitant to try Google Reader just because the idea of Fever seems so appealing: Fever learns me. Google Reader doesn’t.

Daniel Bachhuber December 24, 2009 Reply

@Zack Sweet, I look forward to hearing about how your experience goes. I think what I would do if I wanted to try Fever again would be to dump as many RSS feeds within the scope if your interests as possible into Sparks. This will increase the breadth of the data Fever has to work with and should make the “What’s hot” feature more interesting. The issue that I ran into is that it rarely changed from day to day, and most commonly showed posts I had already come across multiple times via RSS, Twitter, etc.

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