I’ve been saying for a while now, that in terms of “information revolutions” we’re on the brink of the third wave. The first was about simply accessing information , the second about publishing information and the third is about manipulating or routing information (or data).
For years I’d assumed that RSS would play a part in the arrival of the third wave, but where have all the online RSS readers gone? Is Bloglines still “live”? What happened to Rojo? I remember a number of contenders, including desktop apps like NetNewsWire and the like but it seems now that there is only Google Reader left.
Other newsreaders like Rojo used to let me re-publish or share my news, but Google Reader doesn’t. And to be honest Google Reader is crap. Although using browser plugins like Feedly massively improve the experience of RSS it’s just not as automatic or fun as tools like Paper.li or how I imagine Flipboard (I don’t have an iPad).
And although I have more control over an RSS account than what appears in my Paper.li or Flipboard pages, RSS feels more clunky. Images are often still shown as links, sites that post every few minutes flood your news and in general it just feels like you are too close to the technology.
Added to the clunk, is the fact that once you have a few hundred subscriptions in an RSS reader exactly where your news is coming from becomes mystifying. Especially if you’ve subscribed to a few aggregated feeds. It doesn’t feel like you are routing or even in control anymore. RSS starts to feel like an albatross.
As an experiment, I recently swapped my subscriptions (by exporting our subscriptions as OPML) with Andy over at Offmessage to see if someone with similar but different interests would enliven RSS for me. What I found was that amazingly, with almost a completely different set of news sources, the news felt the same. Or to put it another way, even with all of Andy’s lolcats, I didn’t feel I was missing out on any news, it was just coming to me via a different route.
What all of this is saying to me, given the fact that one of my roles is about sharing “best practice”, is that after years of being an ardent fan of the possibilities of RSS, I’m now doubting if it is worth the effort. RSS hasn’t delivered, RSS Readers (and by that I mean Google Reader) doesn’t do what I wanted, it isn’t putting me in control of anything, it isn’t delivering any magic and I can pretty much get “good enough” news in plenty of other ways.
A large part of this ennui with RSS has to be that, my interests are always shifting and I feel weighed down with usability or information architecture stuff, things I was interested in pre 2000. I’ve moved on but my RSS Reader hasn’t and it’s become too big to prune…. AND it doesn’t do anything to help me, it just sits there, spewing crap at me. You’d really think that Google Reader would do helpful things, like categorising news feeds, or noticing the ones you focus in on, or SOMETHING helpful.
Part of the “craft” of creating an enjoyable RSS experience is that feeds have to complement each other, there’s no point having information fire-hoses obscuring the infrequent writer. It takes time to create your own personal newspaper… and it’s almost impossible to create a collection of feeds for someone else, I’ve tried many times.
So there. You might still find RSS useful for you, well done, but given my current disappointment with it, especially from an evangelising perspective, I’m looking for a whole new way of being kept up to date. It probably will be Twitter-based, either that or paper. The walk to the newsagent will do me good.
Actually, maybe it’s just, for me, a death of news per se. If I see another “10 ways to XYZ” article again I think I might lose it. Rather than blaming Google Reader for being rubbish and slowly suffocating all the (better) competition there was, I need to look to myself and realise most news IS CRAP… and spend less time worrying about it.
But if you want to send me your exported OPML file, I’ll give it a whirl for a week and see if I feel news inspired by your picks of the internet. It can’t be worse than Andy’s pictures of cats…. can it? I’ll let you know how I get on.