Where RSS Readers went wrong

Friendfeed

Dare Obasanjo wrote quite a critical blog post about where RSS readers went wrong, then followed that up with another post about where Friendfeed went wrong.

Dare's thoughts quite solid too,

  1. Dave Winer was right about River of News style aggregators. A user interface where I see a stream of news and can click on the bits that interest me without doing a lot of management is superior to the using the current dominant RSS reader paradigm where I need to click on multiple folders, manage read/unread state and wade through massive walls of text I don’t want to read to get to the gems.
  2. Today’s RSS readers are a one way tool instead of a two-way tool. One of the things I like about shared links in Twitter & Facebook is that I can start or read a conversation about the story and otherwise give feedback (i.e. “like” or retweet) to the publisher of the news as part of the experience.
  3. As Dave McClure once ranted, it's all about the faces. The user interface of RSS readers is sterile and impersonal compared to social sites like Twitter and Facebook because of the lack of pictures/faces of the people whose words you are reading
  4. No good ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. As if it isn’t bad enough that you are nagged about having thousands of unread blog posts when you don’t visit your RSS reader for a few days, there isn’t a good way to get an overview of what is most interesting/pressing and then move on by marking everything as read. On the other hand, when I go to Techmeme I can always see what the current top stories are and can even go back to see what was popular on the days I didn’t visit the site.
  5. The process of adding feeds still takes too many steps. If I see your Twitter profile and think you’re worth following, I click the “follow” button and I’m done. On the other hand, if I visit your blog there’s a multi-step process involved to adding you to my subscriptions even if I use a web-based RSS aggregator like Google Reader.

I agree, the river of news style aggregator works surprisingly well, I don't know what it is but that movement of scanning a load of headlines is quick and effective. I actually liked RSS Owl's aggregator mode, where you can select a load of feeds and just have them all available in one massive long list. This is great for reading on the train for example.
The social nature of the RSS reader has always been a problem. Not only did I want to share bookmarks via delicious but I also wanted almost equal balance with being able to blog parts of
what I was reading. So in RSS Owl there was the concept of newsbins which you could dump news items into. I wanted those bins to be linked to things like tublr blogs but it wasn't to be. I guess Google readers like feature is as close as I could imagine it would work. However it would be good to make for example public and have a rss feed in the future.

I'm not tied to the look of blogs, its nice but not essential for my reading, although I can see others seeing it as important. The wheat and chaff argument for me wasn't as bad when I was using Touchstone/Particls. It was like having your own Techmeme on your desktop, to be fair also Particls had nicer ways to share news that most rss readers. The APML support and concept was ahead of its time and I'm sure will make it into future rss readers. And finally adding feeds is agreed still too painful, what really does my nut in is when someone links a podcast to the itunes store. So you can't actually get the RSS feed its self. Sometimes I have to pull down the source and search for *.rss or *.xml feeds which is shocking. Discovery should work but it doesn't always and very few seem to cope with multiple feeds.

Don't get me wrong, I still use Liferea with Google Reader sync but I don't bother with folders anymore. I tend to use Liferea when I'm offline to catch up with stuff. My more general use of RSS is as plumbing between components and services, there's no doubt thats what its best for.

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.