Conserving Your Limited Attention

I couldn’t agree more with Jeremy Zawodny:

“I see too many people I know getting caught up in the breathless hype and forgetting to think about whether the latest shiny new thing really matters in the grand scheme of things. Sooner or later the treadmill is going to tire you out…”

When I hear someone complaining about all the feeds competing for their attention, I have to wonder why they don’t just unsubscribe from most of them. Are their aggregators not helping them find the feeds they’re paying the least attention to so they can figure out which ones to unsubscribe from? I regularly weed out the feeds that I don’t spend any time with, so catching up with my unread posts every morning doesn’t turn into an all-day affair.

In my case, part of my “feed weeding” involves getting rid of a bunch of single-topic feeds, then subscribing to one feed that points out the interesting articles in those feeds. Scoble’s link blog, for example, saves me from subscribing to a ton of tech-related feeds. In this situation, Scoble assumes the position of an editor (and I do the same thing with my link blog).

In fact, I could easily get rid of 90% of my feeds if I could find better editors on topics other than technology. Syndication lends itself to the rise of sites that point out the interesting stuff to us, so I’ll wager we’ll see more editors and fewer over-subscribed feed readers over the next few years.

4 thoughts on “Conserving Your Limited Attention

  1. Well, I guess I have to delete your feed..:), just kidding. However, I do think a lot of us get so immense into our feeds that we forget to engage with people in living flesh. I think blogs/feeds are great tools, but the end result of getting anything accomplished, is you got to engage with people.
    Great product you have…I think I am going to do some summer “feeds” cleaning today to get my total feeds down to a managable level, and give myself more time to see people…

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  2. I can think of two reasons why these people don’t unsubscribe from feeds:
    1) They’re data pack-rats – just like the people with the cluttered houses you see on shows like Clean Sweep, these people cannot bear to delete anything on the off chance that it might be useful some day. (This would be me – I still have all my data from all my PCs going back to 1992!)
    2) They’re addicted to information – whether it’s useful to them or not, they cannot stop trying to look at new things, find out new information whether it’s necessary or relevant to them or not. I will also have to admit to a little bit of this.
    I mean, I know there are feeds that I haven’t read in two years, yet I’m still subscribed to them because they had useful information in them one time and I figure they still might have some future value.
    I think another reason is that the Attention data report really doesn’t reflect how I read due to my reading style, so I don’t really get an accurate picture of what I do/don’t read. I rarely flag anything (I only have 1 item flagged now as it is) and only have a handful of posts among just 4 newsbins, and I don’t have any watches. I read everything at the folder level, and a lot of my feeds are full-text feeds, so I don’t open a lot of stuff in new tabs, and when I do, it’s usually every post in a feed because it’s just a “headline” feed. The end result is that there are a couple of feeds in the “least attention” report that I read faithfully every day.

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  3. As long as the feeds are well-organized/well-categorized, does it matter the quantity? I will still read what I want to read when I want to read it, and if I don’t read something and it sits there marked “unread” until I purge it whenever that’s fine too. I have thousands of unread articles and I feel no pressure whatsoever to lower that number. It’s there if and when I’m ready for it. It’s not precious and it doesn’t take up a lot of resources to just let the feeds accumulate.
    I think user attention should be paid to a more efficient filtering system, so what you want when you want it floats to the top. My folder system is all about priority, as much as it’s about content.

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  4. I subscribe to several feeds I almost never read. I only subscribe to them so I can have FeedDemon run searches on them for the occasional article they do publish that I am interested in. I also subscribe to a number of feeds that publish very infrequently. I think that’s actually a great use of RSS. Who wants to check a site all the time when they only publish something new once every 3-4 weeks?
    Relying on someone else to tell you what you are/should be keeping up with is limiting and can lead to single mindedness.

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