Apr 18 2005

Making the RSS world a more user friendly place

I’ve been thinking about the ways that I interface with feeds that I read. Specifically, how I parse through information, how I figure out what I want to read and subscribe to and how I’d like view different types of information.

I see a couple of problems with the proliferation of information brought upon by the explosion of RSS. Specifically, with so much noise, how does one cut through all the chatter to focus on what you really want to hear? The issue is not just how do I figure out what blogs or news feeds to subscribe to (that’s actually pretty easy) – it’s the broader question of how do I manage those feeds; how do I capture information on topics I care about that are published in feeds I don’t care about; and how can I organize my information capture so I spend more time reading what I want to read vs. figuring out what I want to read.

I’ve read the attention.xml spec (and a bunch of related posts on the topic). I’ve played around with del.icio.us and read Fred’s post on why it’s cool (I’m still working on understanding that). I’ve set up keyword searches in Technorati. I’ve sort of played around with tagging in Technorati. None is getting me there (yet).

This is a real problem in the RSS world. With the number of blogs and feeds proliferating (Technorati says they now track almost 9m weblogs and over 1bn links; and that doesn’t even include all of the feeds from newspapers, magazines, on-line news, etc) there’s a lot of info to parse through. This is just too much information to get through and technology is behind the curve on figuring out how to help us deal with this volume.

Without jumping into the debate on things like attention.xml, tagging, etc and assuming that this broader solution will eventually get figured out (lots has already been said on the subject and frankly my opinions are biased – in both directions – based on my firm’s investments in Technorati, Newsgator and Feedburner) here are a few things that I’d like to see changed/developed RIGHT NOW to make my RSS life easier:

Data formatting: I wrote a post about this recently. I’d like to have some ability to view large amounts of data (i.e., what a lot of people are writing) in an easily digestible format. Sometimes you don’t want to read specific feeds – just know what a group of people are talking about.

Subject level subscriptions part 1: Why can’t I subscribe to just some subject areas of certain blogs? Some of the blogs I read have 50% or higher waste – topics I don’t really care about. I should be able to subscribe to specific topics only.

Subject level subscriptions part II: Ditto the above concept, but for key-word searches. I’d like to be able to point a filter at only certain feeds – say InfoWorld – and return only their stories from only their feeds that I’m interested in.

Subject level subscriptions part III: Why can’t publishers get better at this? I love Slate, for instance; but I hate the fact that I need to subscribe to their entire site to get their feed (as opposed to certain authors or even just specific sections of their site) – I shouldn’t need to parse through 100 Slate posts a day to get the 3 subjects I care about.

Feed Sharing: This one seems like it should be simple. My version of attention.xml is called Brad Feld. He has the capacity to sort through more information than I can and he sends me stuff that’s interesting. That works well for me and, importantly, it cuts down on the feeds I need to read, but the process should 1) be simpler and 2) be broader. Brad (or anyone else) should be able to easily set up a ‘favorites’ list that I can subscribe to. When Brad is reading something in his RSS reader that he likes he should be able to hit a button and publish that post (not the whole feed – just the single post) to a “Feld Favorites” feed which I
can subscribe to.

Sounds easy enough. Lets get on it.