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.