There should be an alternative to one-size-fits-all RSS feeds for busy sites. Too many high-volume sites assume everyone wants to read every post. That’s wishful thinking. Some readers may want 5+ posts a day from your site, but what about moderate fans who only want 5 posts a week? Or casual fans who want a mere 5 posts a month? These people just want a glass of water yet sites insist on pointing a firehose at them.
The RSS avalanche
In All Feeded Up, Khoi discusses the challenge of surviving the RSS avalanche:
I’ve collected so damn many RSS feeds that, when I sit down in front of the application, it’s almost as difficult a challenge as having no feed reader whatsoever. With dozens and dozens of subscriptions, each filled with dozens of unread posts, I often don’t even know where to start.
In the past, friends have advised me to just narrow my list down to a manageable number of essential subscriptions — a bare few that I can consume easily, day in and day out. But every time I try to do that, I find that I can’t really bear to get rid of most of these feeds. They all seem essential, and I’m loathe to give any of them up. Of course, I understand the corollary of that reluctance: refusing to part with most of these feeds means I’ll probably continue to benefit from very few of them.
I don’t think he’s alone. A lot of people want to keep up with what’s going on at a specific RSS feed but don’t have the time to read everything there. So people wind up following the advice of Khoi’s friends — ruthless pruning of any feed deemed inessential, even though some of the content there is desired.
If content was filtered better, these on-the-fence sites would at least have a chance to stick around. Here are a few options for filtering RSS feeds so they’re not just an all or nothing proposition for readers:
The author decides
In this approach, authors decide which posts qualify for a “greatest hits” feed. Those top posts are published separately in an abridged, cream-of-the-crop feed.
For example, Gawker blogs, which usually publish double digit posts per day, tag noteworthy posts “top” and then people can subscribe to this tag instead of the entire feed (top stories at Lifehacker and Idolator, for example).
The community decides
Similar to the above option, this method lets actions of others determine which posts deserve attention. People like clicking on the Most Viewed link on YouTube or the Top Today link on Digg so why not bring this sort of concept to narrow reading material at selected RSS feeds? Filter posts based on amount of traffic, number of comments, an “interestingness” formula, or whatever.
A while back, Wired discussed RSS aggregators with collaborative-filtering capabilities along the lines of Amazon.com’s automated recommendation system (sample quote: “I want to solve the question of ‘I don’t have any time and I subscribe to 500 feeds. I just got off the plane. What do I need to read?’”).
The reader’s friends decide
The problem with community filters is there’s a lot of groupthink which doesn’t always reflect what you care about. How about a tool that allows trusted friends to suggest individual posts to your RSS feed? For example, your friend Bob, who reads the science blogs and knows you like dinosaurs, could drop you a dinosaur post once in a while.
The reader decides
In this method, software learns your preferences and separates the wheat from the chaff for you (a la spam-filtering technology). For example, you would mark articles “interesting” or “uninteresting” and the software would learn how to deliver just the posts you really want. Feeds 2.0, a personalized RSS aggregator in private beta, claims to rank feeds according to a user’s preferences and then uses that info to bring interesting articles to the top.
What do you think?
Is keeping up with RSS feeds a challenge for you? If so, what solution would you like to see? Are there blogs or software tools out there that are already doing some/all of the above well? Let’s hear about it.