Changing the way I read
What's the opposite of tl;dr? Exactly long enough; must read?
Feeding Our Reading Habits, a long and fascinating article by Alex Kessinger, whom I know as @voidfiles on app.net, set me thinking, as it was surely intended to do. Ostensibly about RSS readers, one of the least understood and most useful tools of the internet, the article is also about how and why an RSS reader can be a good thing, and in the course of settting out a draft manifesto for a new kind of RSS reader, Alex discusses some of the things readers ought to be able to do, and some of the things you ought to be able to do with them.
I'm not going to attempt to summarise those points; if you've come this far, you owe it to yourself to go and read the article in full. Instead, here are the thoughts it provoked in me.
Shutting down Google Reader was both the best and the worst thing Google did. Best because it prompted some people to build a better RSS reader, worst because that Reader replacement has not yet happened. I jumped ship pretty quickly, to Samuel Clay's Newsblur, happy to pay for the service and be the customer rather than the product. And mostly I used Newsblur as I had used Google Reader (and Vienna and NetNewsWire before it), to skim through lots and lots of feeds, running my eye quickly down headlines, opening stories that seemed interesting in a new tab, occasionally pausing to read a bit of the story within the reader in order to decide whether to go look in more detail.
The purpose of an RSS reader for me is to pull together everything I might be interested in, so I can then decide whether I was interested and, if so, what to do with it. And that, mostly, was to share it via one of my four or five sites. Very, very occasionally I shared through the reader itself; that became frustrating in Google Reader, when you could share only through Google+, and is still frustrating in Newsblur because, for example, it imposes Twitter's parameters when sharing to ADN. I never used my reader to find new publishers to follow, because it didn't offer me that. And I never followed other people's collections of feeds either.
Prompted by what I've read (which, of course, I found not through a reader but because Alex shared a link on ADN) I now plan to organize my feeds into more useful folders, based on both content and frequency. Luckily the past couple of weeks have been so hectic I have more than 3000 unread posts to help me do that. My hope is that this will make it easier to keep up with the stuff that matters, and easier to catch up with myself after an extended absence. Newsblur allows me to mark as read all items older than x days, but that throws the infrequent baby out with the firehosed bathwater. What I really want is to mark as read all except the latest x items. I've asked for that, but it doesn't seem to be a priority, and I don't know enough to do it myself.
Another thing I plan to do is use Newsblur more often as a way of sharing and not just to find stuff to share. Not sure how that will work out.
And finally, it is surely worth adding some other users' blurblogs to my own feed.
I'd like to see Newsblur grow into the kind of RSS reader that Alex imagines. Maybe, though, it is, as he says, part of the problem of proliferation after Google Reader:
[T]hese aren't different products. They are different interfaces.
Either there needs to be more differentiation, or everyone should work together to solve their common problems. Everyone is expending energy to solve the same problem because there is no off-the-shelf solution.
Newsblur is a start, in that money changes hands, and there is a very comprehensive list of ways for people to build their own reader on top of Newsblur. Could it be the basis for the kind of platform that Alex thinks is needed? I have no idea. I know only that I'm going to try and make more, better and different use of what I have, while I wait for something better.
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