After a long run with Google Reader, I’m switching over to NewsBlur. Two key points to the decision: it’s open source and Samuel is experimenting with ways to enhance your information management.

For the former, one idea that’s already come up: I’d love to contribute “Share to WordPress” integration. Oh, and it would be really neat to pull comments already on the post into the reading experience. There seem to be some type of comments limited to just NewsBlur.

The user experience has significant room for improvement. Hopefully he takes the dough he’s pulling in now to hire a proper designer.

It’s also been on my list for a long time to cull my feed subscriptions. Based on what I’m seeing, roughly 90% of blogs died between 2010 and early 2012.

On that note, you need to watch Anil Dash’s “The Web We Lost”:

“The first thing you do, when you succeed in Silicon Valley and your company is acquired, is destroy everyone’s wedding photos […] The reality is those of us that [cared about open formats] have lost.”

It’s time the Open Web became the cool thing to hack on again.

How Zach Seward gets his news

Chiefly, though, I make sure I don’t rely on other people to find stuff for me to read. I mean, I do, of course; everything I’ve described so far is powered by other people. But I feel strongly about also hunting for material on my own, which is why RSS remains a huge part of my life. I subscribe to 881 feeds, although recently, in a moment of sanity, I decided to focus on about 200 of them that I find most valuable. (To pick those choice feeds, I mostly followed the advice of Marco Arment: “RSS is best for following a large number of infrequently updated sites.”)


RSS is frequently said to be a dead technology, which is silly on a lot of levels, but I don’t begrudge the many people who say that, for them, Twitter has replaced RSS. It’s just that I place a premium on reading stuff that others aren’t and don’t find that my Twitter stream reliably reaches into the bowels of the Web.

Zach Seward — Getting the News

“Phone” is to the iPhone as “RSS reader” is to ?

It’s time to iterate on the product formerly known as the RSS reader. Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr are going in a direction that emphasizes usability and ephemerality over durable value and utility. I want someone to do to the RSS reader what Apple has done to the iPhone. The iPhone is a phone — but it’s also a completely different paradigm.

Continue reading ““Phone” is to the iPhone as “RSS reader” is to ?”

Google Reader redesign: terrible decision or worst decision?

Google’s current “bet everything on social now because we missed the boat” movement feels a lot like Microsoft’s “bet everything on the internet because we missed the boat” movement in 1997.

Marco Arment — Google Reader redesign: terrible decision or worst decision?

Google Reader’s new web interface is unusable for me. Good thing I have Reeder (for now).

Reeder for iPhone

Reeder for iPhone. It’s the user experience of Fever with all of the functionality of Google Reader, including shared items, plus bonus features like Instapaper integration, save to Delicious or Pinboard, and offline syncing that. just. works.

What’s more is that I can’t believe Gruber hasn’t linked it yet. A well-deserved hat tip goes to Pete Karl.

Theory: It’s the reader, not the publishing tool

Plug one: There’s a report making its way around the internet that says the youth are spending less time blogging. Specifically, “28% of the two groups studied — teens 12 to 17 and young adults 18 to 29 — actively blogged.” For 2009, this percentage has dropped off to only 14% of teens and 15% of young adults. The author attributes this drop to a rise in the use of Facebook.

Plug two: Marshall Kirkpatrick floated a related idea the other day that Facebook is now the world’s leading news reader. There are at least a few reasons: Facebook has the largest, most active user base on the planet, Facebook gives you control over who has access to your content which leads to a greater willingness to share, and Facebook wraps the whole creation/consumption experience into a nice, easy to use interface.

That last point is the most critical, in my opinion. As average Joe, it’s much, much easier to publish with Facebook (or Twitter) because there is tremendous attention paid to the experience of how content is consumed on a regular basis. Both Facebook and Twitter have dedicated dashboards for your subscriptions where you get visual reinforcement that other people are coming across your content. With my blog, I have a home page which my dad or mom might read occasionally, and X number of faceless RSS subscribers who may or may not “Mark All As Read” on a daily basis. Figuring out how to use Google Reader to read other blogs almost requires the scientific method, which could be a good thing if you consider yourself a geek but is almost certainly a bad thing if you’re a Normal just wanting to read the national news and your friends’ writing.

Moral of the story: Always take studies with a grain of salt. I suspect The Youth are publishing more than ever, but it’s coming in the form of Facebooking and Tumblring instead of maintaining a blog because the proprietary tools, unfortunately, have better readers right now than the open source ones.

Related to this, I’m hoping to take Ryan Sholin’s lead and write more on my original home space. It’s a muscle I think I need to exercise. I’m also going to take Gruber’s lead and turn off comments because I get way too many comment notifications like, “Hi, cool blog, just curious what spam system you use for cleaning up comments because I am getting so many spammers on my blog.”


Quick look at Managing News

Managing News is a “robust news and data aggregation engine with pluggable visualization and workflow tools.” Mo Jangda set up an instance on his server that I finally had the chance to check out. My initial impression was that, like the website, the development team put a tremendous amount of effort into polishing the user interface. It’s a super shiny way to aggregate RSS feeds.

There are nuggets I was able to suss out, however. If you’ve indexed your feeds, there are search capabilities that will also give you the frequency of any given term. The mapping functionality is also very slick. You can get all of the recent stories on a map, or stories limited to a specific term. It’s misleading to have the initial view of the map be the entire world, though, because the most useful view to an end user will be whatever region they’re interested in.

This brings me to my biggest observation: a tool like this would be most useful for managing feeds of raw data, not feeds of news articles. News articles are products where the data has already been through the rock tumbler. Where Managing News wants to be headed, I think, is towards building a tool that allows you to map and visualize all manners of data.

The difficulty then is both building the visualization tools and finding, or even brainstorming, properly geo-coded RSS feeds of the data you’re interested in.

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.