Link Blogs are Attention Streams

I’ve been writing about attention for quite a while now, ever since Steve Gillmor introduced me to the concept at Gnomedex 2004. Since then I’ve experimented with various ways to improve RSS aggregation by examining what you’re paying attention to, but I’ve rarely been satisfied with what I’ve come up with.

The basic problem with RSS aggregators is that once you subscribe to enough feeds, you’ve got too much information to keep up with. Sure, on a slow day you can read everything you’re subscribed to, but when you’re busy, you might just want to read the stuff that’s important to you.

This was the impetus for the popular topics feature in FeedDemon 2.5, which shows the most talked about items in your subscribed feeds. I know I rely on this “personal memetracker” feature a lot – when I’m nose down in the code and don’t have time to read my feeds, I just mark everything as read and then view FeedDemon’s popular topics to see the most commonly linked articles. Overall I’ve found this more effective than the various online memetrackers because it’s personalized with only the feeds that I’m subscribed to.

Lately I’ve noticed that my popular topics have been bringing me a ton of articles that are of interest to me, articles I might’ve missed if FeedDemon didn’t have this feature. And I’ve also noticed that the single biggest reason I’m getting so many interesting articles is because I’m subscribed to a number of link blogs.

If you’re not familiar with link blogs, they’re basically collections of articles that someone finds interesting. For example, FeedDemon 2.5 added the ability to share your favorite links as an RSS feed, and I have a link blog feed of my own. FeedDemon isn’t the only aggregator that offers this feature, either – NewsGator Online has had it for quite some time, and it’s also available in Google Reader.

Whenever I read something interesting, I copy it to my link blog. So my link blog is like my attention stream – it contains the stuff that I’m paying attention to.

And now that I’m subscribed to several link blogs, I can see what others are paying attention to. When an article appears in more than one of link blogs that I’m subscribed to, it shows up in FeedDemon’s popular topics. This consistently brings me new articles that I never would’ve found by myself.

That to me is the holy grail of “attention.” One of the main goals of the attention concept is to enable you to filter out the noise and just see the stuff that’s important to you, and I’m finding that FeedDemon’s popular topics combined with subscribing to link blogs is consistently doing just that.

I think there’s a lot more that can be done here – not just in FeedDemon, but in other aggregators as well. If you use an RSS aggregator, I believe you could really benefit from seeing the things that the people you pay attention to are paying the most attention to.

9 thoughts on “Link Blogs are Attention Streams

  1. For what it’s worth, I’ve got a popular links feed generator script in my Hacking RSS and Atom book from Wiley. Just so that this comment’s not a total self-advertisement, the source code is here:
    http://decafbad.com/trac/browser/trunk/hacking_rss_and_atom/ch15_popular_links.py
    I’ve been watching a feed generated by this script via cronjob for close to 3 years now, drawing from a subscription list of about 1000 feeds I’ve collected for longer than that. It’s become the first feed I check in the day, and I can’t ever see giving it up.
    That you’ve got it as a feature in FeedDemon freaking rocks for anyone who doesn’t feel like setting up a python script and a cronjob. :)

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  2. Nick I have FeedDemon open 24/7 and teh only reason I dont use the popular topics option is that I want my feed to be on my own server. I dont want the feed being hosted on feeddemmon.com if you built in a way where I could tell it where to update it via ftp I would be more inclined to use it.
    I use google reader as a last resort but would much rather have my feeds under my own control.

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  3. “And now that I’m subscribed to several link blogs, I can see what others are paying attention to. When an article appears in more than one of link blogs that I’m subscribed to, it shows up in FeedDemon’s popular topics. This consistently brings me new articles that I never would’ve found by myself.”
    I think I’m missing something here. I thought that the Popular Topics was comprised of items from feeds you had subscribed to. If that’s true how is it that you never would have found that item? I can understand that claim if it was an item from a feed you don’t subscribe to. But if you are subscribed, wouldn’t a search turn it up?

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  4. Peter, you’re correct that I’m subscribed to these link blogs – but I don’t look at everything in them when I’m busy. Scoble, for example, adds dozens of items to his link blog every week, and it’s rare that I have time to even scan their headlines. Instead, I mark them all read, and then rely on “Popular Topics” to show me the most commonly-linked articles.
    What I’m finding is that many of these commonly-linked articles are ones that appear in several of the link blogs I’m subscribed to, and these articles aren’t ones that appear in any of the other feeds I’m subscribed to. So the combination of “popular topics” and subscribing to link blogs is bringing me new stuff that I find interesting.

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