I Used to spend a lot of time in RSS
As of today, I’m no longer using Feedly. In my eyes, Feedly was just the service that took over from Google Reader, and if you combine them I’ve got nearly ten years of daily RSS reading. I’ve taken breaks, and tried to quit before, but I think I’ve finally found a solid exit strategy.
For people who spend a lot of time on the internet, RSS catchers like Google Reader and Feedly have been a way to mainline the information. Even though there’s always a touch of a delay from a website publishing a post and a reader acknowledging it, it’s almost always faster than the reader thinking to check the site for new content.
RSS readers solved two problems: constantly updating people on sites that got lots of posts (so they can feel connected and complete), and equally updating people on sites that don’t get updated very often (so the reader doesn’t accidentally miss one). Readers are almost certainly at their best doing the latter (especially when it comes to things like webcomics or personal blogs seldom updated), but quickly becomes tantamount to smoking when it comes to the former.
Feedly’s main problem (which was Google Reader’s main problem) was that it displays the number of unread posts next to a site, and it never resets until you actually view them. There’s an in-built pressure to return to the site, if only to clean it out. Twitter has done a remarkable job of making completedness feel difficult, overwhelming, and frankly not worth it, but Feedly continues to encourage the practice. Twitter gets that the internet is really a stream of content, and that what is missed is, well, missed. But that’s okay. To get to everything would be insane.
Now, I still want to get updates on most of the things I had subscribed to in Feedly, but I want the frequency and expectations of completedness to vary based on the site. I don’t needto read every single post on The Verge or Jezebel, for instance, and I don’t want to feel any sort of guilt for not having at least skimmed everything. These kinds of sites, where the post count goes into the double digits every day, have to be dealt with differently than, say, Hark a Vagrant, a comic that’s updated with no regularity.
While culling my Feedly subscription list, I found sites naturally fell into one of four categories:
Thankfully, RSS is not only not the only way to get updates, it isn’t even the encouraged route anymore. Twitter and Facebook are generally how people stay up to date on what’s happening, but I’m not on Facebook, and Twitter is something I prefer to use just to communicate (to people, and the ether), so I’ve found four excellent solutions to these four problems:
Flipboard is great for routing sites that publish constantly. Not only is there no unread marker, the design of the app encourages the best stuff rising above the cruft. “Cover stories” reads like a “best-of” of the content you’ve added.
Many more sites these days are turning to weekly newsletters. Some people blog primarily through them. I couldn’t recommend moving all your updates to this medium, but a small handful can make reading your email not suck quite as much again.
As for the other two, there are certain article series or blogs I want to read every single time they’re published. There are a select few I want to read the second they’re available, but most can simply be sent to my unread collection in Pocket. Both save me a step: checking for new content, and placing the content in a place I prefer it anyway.
It may seem counterintuitive to make this process more complex. I’m trying to simplify my life (at least online), so why use four services when one was working? Automation is certainly a factor, but mainly it’s that now I don’t have anything I feel the need to constantly check. The stuff I can get to later is in a place that won’t guilt me for not getting to it. The stuff I want to get will come to me. The anxiety of RSS gets taken care of with a smarter system of pipes (oh man, remember Yahoo Pipes?)
If you think about it, you likely have a good number of sites that follow you around. Do you have them in the right bins? Are you conscious of their mental toll on constantly checking up on them, or of them notifying you in a way you might not like? A little custimization and a lot of consideration on your time and attention can go a long way.