Feed My Attention

So, truth be told, I’m kind of disappointed that RSS is still so tied to blogs. Yeah, it’s great to know when my favorite blogs have new posts, but RSS offers so much more than that.

I think of RSS as a non-intrusive alert system. It tells me about new stuff, which usually means new blog posts, but in my case also includes incoming Gmail, bug reports from FogBugz, recent posts to our support forums, problem reports from my Feedburner alert feed, my NetFlix rental queue, and numerous other non-blog items.

So really, my feed reader is my universal inbox – it’s the tool that lets me know when there’s something new that I might want to pay attention to.  But when you think about it, the stuff we’ve already paid attention to is often just as important as the new stuff that’s demanding our attention.  It’s nice that I can subscribe to a feed which brings me new YouTube videos, but why can’t I also have a feed which shows me what I’ve recently watched on YouTube?  Or one that lists the songs I recently previewed on iTunes?  Or how about a feed of my Amazon purchases?  And why not a feed of the people I’ve met on MySpace?

This is the kind of stuff we should demand from the services we use. Most of them already record everything we do, so why can’t we get that information back in a form that’s useful to us? You know, like an RSS feed?  We could even choose to share our “attention feed” from one service with another service to help it provide information that’s more relevant to us.

I realize there are lots of geeky details I’m leaving out here (for starters, my attention feeds would have to be password-protected and not automatically shared with the world at large), but the basic idea sounds good to me.  If the information that’s being collected about me was given back to me, my aggregator could stop being a “what’s new” tool and become a “My World” application that shows what I’ve paid attention to in the past, present and possibly future.

15 thoughts on “Feed My Attention

  1. Taking Feeds Beyond the Blog

    I’m very glad to see the apparent interest in using web feeds as lightweight APIs into applications. There’s an incredible potential there. But software developers have to realize that there’s a set of things they need to support before their tools wil…

  2. You will be happy to know Nick that use FD in a very similar way. I even have a folder called Personal Feeds. I just wish that some companies would get their act together and actually get their feeds working! I would be interested to know how to do the Gmail thing, I’ll have to sus that out.

  3. Is your universal inbox an innie or an outtie? It is great it know our current feeds with Ytubes but I agree with you Nick that it would be nice to know your past. Especially, iTunes with Beatles stuff.

  4. Hey Nick,
    I agree. I would even go so far as to say that I would like feeds that would download ALL the contect from someone to my desktop. I would love to be able to use FeedDemon (or any other prog for that matter) to archive what I feel is important and also to be my personal (and offline) searching utility.

  5. Well, part of the problem isn’t just the providers, it’s the consumers. Meaning if I want to know when I have new gmail I’m not going to have an application, even as wonderful as FeedDemon, running constantly on my machine.
    I often close FeedDemon on purpose just so I can get some work done, otherwise I’ll be yanked off of writing code anytime I see a blog update alert.
    Also, there are still issues with FeedDemon + NewsGator syncing when behind certain firewalls. I mentioned this in the forums a few times but using Fiddler I discovered that certain firewalls strip bits and pieces from the SOAP header, which in turn highly confuses the .NET SOAP handler. What’s odd is that I don’t see Delphi webservices (on the server side) having this issue, only .NET ones. To add salt to the wounds is the fact that FD’s “Connection Checker” reports the connection as A-OK, when it really isn’t.
    I believe for RSS to go beyond blogs the consumer application needs to support a different approach to RSS. The current look and feel of most readers has an e-mail/browser metaphor which to me doesn’t stress the notification/archival/data-housing aspect that you are talking about as much. Even a different UI layout for FeedDemon would perhaps stress this shift in usage.
    It is a chicken before the egg issue of course. If there isn’t a tool that consumers can identify as this data-housing RSS reader then providers don’t see a need to expose their content, yet until there is content consumers won’t be as interested in different reader metaphor.
    Off the cuff I can imagine a bundle that comes with a new/repackaged tool PLUS default/suggestion feeds that aren’t blog-focused. Bundling YouTube, GMail, Amazon, Yahoo, MySpace, eMusic, Live Local, XBox Live, etc. type feeds. Of course you’d have to lobby for it but that would show users the other ways feeds can be used.

  6. Oh, and while you are trying to stress different feed usages, where are your comment feeds? I honestly never check back on threads I’ve commented on unless I have a feed to notify me. This seems like such a “Nick” thing to have that I swear I must just be missing the feed link.

  7. Thanks Nick! It would be nice if we could get that link at the bottom of each comment section, though I’m guessing this is a TypePad thing.

  8. We use RSS to provide a news feed and also a list of recently added items to our inventory. I’m sure no-one is using it but it was so easy to add…

  9. Nick, nice post and I agree with you – but your vision still doesn’t use feeds to their fullest potential because you’re limiting your ideas to how feeds can be used by FeedDemon (or feedreaders) specifically.
    Other applications can use feeds too. Maybe even applications that don’t involve a human reading something, such as an application that watches a feed of your gmail and if you receive an email from person X it automatically forwards the message to your cell phone via SMS. Or how about an appliation that watches a feed of your bank account transactions and notifies you if your account balance reaches a particular level? Maybe an application that watches a feed of Google Calendar event entries and imports new appointments into Outlook or SalesForce. An app that watches a feed of transactions to your PayPal account and automatically updates your Quickbooks company file with the new transaction details?
    This is the kind of thing that I am more excited about. Basically its a view where feeds are more than an alert system, they’re an information system, they’re an API.

  10. I agree that RSS has much more to offer and I share your disappointment that RSS is still tied to blogs. I assume part of the problem is the “crossing the chasm” issue; RSS is still in the domain of techies. I’m hoping that the release of Vista and IE7 will raise awareness of the potential and possibilities of RSS.

  11. Nick,
    Concerning a feed of what you’ve listened to in iTunes… You may try http://www.last.fm. They have a plugin for iTunes that records data back to their servers about what you’ve listened to. They also provide some nice feeds.

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