Dare Obasanjo believes that RSS readers which are modeled after email clients are broken:
“…it seems to me that the way we think of RSS readers needs to fundamentally change. Presenting information as a news feed where the user isn’t pressured to read every item or feel like a failure is one way to move the needle on the user experience here.”
I couldn’t agree more. The fact that FeedDemon’s Panic Button is one of its most popular features is a clear sign that information overload resulting from “RSS as email” is a problem among my customers.
It’s no secret that I regret designing the first version of FeedDemon to work like an email client, and every version since then has been an attempt to drag myself and my customers (some of them screaming and kicking) away from that model. It’s been such a slow crawl out of that hole that I’ve often considered building something brand new instead of trying to morph FeedDemon into a tool that doesn’t make information consumption a chore.
But then I come to my senses, realize that I love being able to focus on FeedDemon, and get back to making it into the application it should be :)
So what do I think it should be? I think an RSS reader should enable you to read individual feeds if that’s what you’re into, but at the same time it should sift through the noise and find the articles that interest you.
Many services attempt to do that by aggregating the most popular articles around the web, but I’m not a fan of that approach since it brings you too much stuff you don’t care about (you might not, for example, care about Britney Spears regardless of whether everyone else does). Instead, my approach has been to have FeedDemon pay attention to the stuff you’re paying attention to, and use that to locate the stuff that’s most relevant.
You can see this most clearly in features like “Popular Topics” (which shows you the most popular articles across all your feeds), and the new dashboard-like start page in FeedDemon 3.0. If you’re unfamiliar with FeedDemon, or you’re not using the FeedDemon 3.0 Beta, here’s what they look like (click to enlarge):
These are the kinds of features I want to focus much more on in FeedDemon. I want to eventually build a tool that automatically brings you the stuff that’s important to both you and the people you “follow” with as little effort from you as possible and without violating your privacy in the process.
In my mind the “RSS as email” approach has been dead for quite some time, and it’s been a while since I invested in email-like features. The real question is whether long-time users of RSS readers are ready to give up how they’re used to consuming their feeds (?).
15 thoughts on “Is Your RSS Reader Broken?”
I prefer my newsreader to be like an email client. I choose the feeds I want to follow, and therefore I get the content I want. I do not add feeds that give content I am generally not interested in. That would be stupid.
If I like some of what a feed gives me, but not everything, I can use a service like Yahoo Pipes to filter out what I don’t like, and then use the new feed it gives me to get all the information from that feed that I like, without the junk I don’t like.
I have been using FeedDemon for a while now, its a great time saver.
For me, you are heading in the right direction, agree 110%.
As I already stated over in Dare Obasanjo’s Blog, I think a possible solution would be to implement a bayesian filtering system much like a spamfilter so that Feed Demon could be trained to fetch relevant items out of the river of news by classifying into categories of personal flavor. This would not collide with the current views but add automagic views for the categories a user would like.
The user would define his categories of choice (like: readlater, urgend, programming, archive etc) and could sort every item into 0-x categories. Via bayesian filtering (or hidden markov model) FeedDemon could learn.
See http://sourceforge.net/projects/sux0r/ for an idea.
One other helpful feature would be to have FeedDemon group items when it makes sense. I tend to agree with Khristopher in the sense that I select the feeds I subscribe to for a reason in the first place. But sometimes posts from multiple feeds actually discuss the same topic. they may even reference each other via links. What I’d like FeedDemon to do is generate a “master topic” and attach all related posts to it. I’m not sure how much of the information overload issue this would address, but it would certainly help.
Btw, FeedDemon is a great piece of software and getting better with every release.
i also think rss are not mail.
Popular topics could be an option but is not real-time (build first).
Another interesting option for me would be tagging feeds with some dedicated tags based on interest. With an itunes-like instant search filter, you can choose to display only the most interesting feeds, most of them, all except somes, real all.
I explain the ‘except somes’ as i’m subscribed to feeds, i never checked directly but only through watch. I would really like to make them “invisible”.
thanks a lot for your great work feeddemon.
@S.-R. Langer: I believe “Popular Topics” does exactly what you’re describing.
Sounds fantastic, only thing is… I don’t think anyone really has a good idea of how it can be done well. The removal of the middle pain is not a good idea becuase what you have left (even with the newspaper styles) is still too reminiscent of a email reader, and so the experience feels incomplete and annoying.
I think a dramatic change is the only way you can do this, not through weaning and pruning and changing things here and there.
I really have no idea how it could be done either, but incidentally I’m increasingly following other people’s shared feeds, like your own, rather than subscribing to the individual blogs myself. Saves me a great deal of time and I still get the same articls I would normally =)
The biggest issue for me as a long-time FD user and avid RSS user is what every RSS service and client seems to lack:
FILTERING OUT USELESS INFORMATION
Yes, that big bad feature nobody implements because some twisted individuals might cause the world to end by trying to block out ads (which for the most part aren’t individual items but mostly added to items). At least that’s the stock reply to such a feature request.
It’s also coincidentally like the #1 feature from mail clients that never made it into RSS clients modeled after them.
Personally I have no use for any popularity measurement based features (it’s about as useless as search engine results ranked by popularity). No matter what kind of popularity mechanisms, rankings and whatnot gets implemented by any sharing services, we still have our hands tied behind our backs when it comes to us end users wanting to choose what to receive.
I know it sounds like a rant. But really, I’d be crawling through half the current amount of items in feeds I follow if my client allowed me to filter out things I’m not interested in (as the feeds and services don’t offer that at their respective ends). Doing it in reverse by filtering in via watches for subjects I might be interesting is nowhere near as practical and leaves a lot to be desired – and I’m still going through all my feeds.
My solution to this is a custom newspaper style that offers exactly this – a custom newspaper style that filters topics and marks the matching ones as ‘SPAM’. It suits my way of using FD as I only use the newspaper view with ‘headlines only’ and not the News Items view. But it’s a workaround to a problem that should have been solved ages ago. It works no matter how I choose to view my feeds, per feed or ‘river of news’ or watches or filters. Thank the deity of your choice for at least this being possible. If only I could get them automatically marked read or deleted…
The best way to hide those Britney stories would be the opposite of watches: to filter them out with keywords. Simple as that.
“Blocking out ads” just doesn’t cut it an excuse, it never did. Less than one percent of items in all my feeds are ads. We’re talking about a couple of “thanks to our sponsors” items per week amongst several hundred feeds and several tens of thousands of items. From which more than half I’d prefer not seeing at all, if I had the choice.
Take this all as directed towards the feed providers and client/service makers and not against one particular client that happens to be the best available one.
Have you tried Times on the Mac, Nick? What are your thoughts on the “newspaper” style layout they’re using? I think it’s interested in that you can scan across multiple feeds as you would scan a traditional news paper. I’ve toyed with it a couple of times but I’m too hooked on the old way. Still using FD (on PC) and NNW (on Mac).
Dare and everyone who has ever written a “how to deal with email overload” post really needs to get over the self-imposed need to consume everything that is out there. Why is it so hard to admit you’re just not that interested in everything you once were?
Unsubscribe to the feeds you don’t read and the ones that have too much junk in them and get on with your life. Sure, there is always the small risk that you’ll miss something, but you know what, if it’s really important, you’ll find out about it somehow.
If you’re the kind of person who feels bad about not reading every incoming post, then you’ve got problems that just changing the layout or functionality of your RSS reader isn’t going to solve.
@Loyd: My Mac is too old to run Times, but I’ve checked out their web site and liked what I saw. I’ve often considered doing something similar, and may yet add a “true” newspaper-like view.
@Peter: I wish I could agree with you, but the problem is deeper than that, IMO. Many people are conditioned by email into thinking they have to read everything that’s bold, so that naturally extends to their RSS reader.
And it’s not just geeks, either – my non-techie wife felt overwhelmed the first time she tried FeedDemon because of all the unread stuff staring her in the face.
@Nick: People have learned to easily identify spam and other emails they know they don’t need to spend time reading. Why is it any harder to look through a list of unread posts and pick out the few you think sound interesting and delete the rest unread?
I too don’t find any use in simplifying FD.
I choose feeds that I need and I don’t need attention tracking at all.
What I need is more powerful filters to pick out the important info from feeds I do follow, and this can’t seem to come in line to be implemented.
There are some of us that actually use rss feeds to follow more important changes than various blogs, tweets, rants and other “web 2.0” junk…
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