Sunday, October 9, 2011

RSS: Rather Shoddily Signaled

I've been using RSS feeds with my google reader for several weeks now.  At first, I was truly enamored with it; it seemed just as easy and convenient as all the hype claimed it'd be. I set up a bunch of folders to organize my feeds into my major areas of interest and need: LIS stuff; local stuff; news; art and literature; humor; the paranormal; miscellaneous personal interests (cartography, infrastructure, New York City history & development), etc.

Maybe I bit off more than I can chew, because now I sort of dread my twice- or thrice-daily scans of my feed.  There are always at least 500 new entries that I need to go through, and I feel more obligated to go through all of them than when I was just scanning the individual sites--I feel more like I "should" be reading them since they're being delivered right to me, else I'll reveal myself to be some sort of information poseur.  But despite that, I just can't do it, and I end of dismissing the vast majority of entries unread.

(The main offender here seems to be my subscription the the Huffington Post.  They are updating and feeding me CONSTANTLY.  When I visit the site I can easily run through the front page section, reading only what interests me, but when it all comes to my reader, all condensed and sans pictures and identifying section colors, I have trouble quickly identifying what I want to spend time on.  When I initially subscribed, it seemed like I could subscribe to individual sections--I chose Viewpoints, News and Green--but that was a red herring and each one just subscribed me to the whole site.  Bad move, HuffPo! Fix that.)

On the subject of news feeds (actual feeds of news sites, I mean), I think that a weakness the RSS model has is that you miss the context and clues inherent in newspapers, which news sites try to follow.  The reader just aggregates every update as it is posted in each site; there's no breakdown into sections, no clear sense of what's an update of a previous story, and most crucially, no sense of hierarchy: I have no idea what the top story of the moment is.  An article about the Bills winning is given as much priority about the latest happenings in Libya, and being in Buffalo, I have no idea which one might be considered the more 'important' story by the editors.

It's a bit of a mess.

Still, I go back several times a day in a quest to keep up.  Maybe I'll eventually abandon the idea of getting my news via RSS and rely on it to aggregate the pages of personal interest that used to take up a lot of bookmark space and cause a lot of skipping around the net for me.  That part's been working fairly well for me.

So, having built up a bit more RSS experience since the last time I touched on it in this blog, I think I need to reassess my sense of this technology's applicability to libraries.  I say, handle with care.  Having a "quick world catchup" feed on public computers for the edification of patrons can become overwhelming; sites to feed must be selected carefully, and I'd recommend skipping HuffPo.  So too with the library's own feed, if you have a site you want people in the community to subscribe to.  My best advice would be to mark each update with its relative importance level and subject/interest area right in the headline to that info will show up in feeds; important vs casual information, reader's advisory vs library operations vs community activities, etc...


  1. As a busy student it is very difficult to keep up with RSS. I rarely look at my google reader, mostly forgetting about it due to the stresses of life and school. But when I get bored and think, "Oh, I do have this funny little thing to update me on those websites I used to have time for." I click away and get lost in the 1000+ posts that are available but will never be read by me. RSS is a good way to waste time, especially on Read it (which you need to add). There is so much RSS offers but news is news and the user has to sift through and decide whats worth their time.

  2. I'm with you, AndAlex--I have completely avoided RSS feeds for this very reason. I'm human. I like to think that when I signal something as being important to me, I mean it--and then I am derelict if I cannot manage to keep up. I need not add myself to any group that might find me wanting, right?