We live in a time of information overload. News and opinion swirls around us online, burying us in an avalanche of foreign newspaper sites, viral video, political blogs, school email newsletters, showbiz podcasts and on and on. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, another hundred new sites spring up and become must-read material.
That’s where the promise of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) comes in, a geeky technology that lets you subscribe to your favorite news sites, blogs, and podcasts. You then use a news reader — either software or web-based — to look at all your sites at a glance. Rather than having to go visit 85 different sites, you can use your feed reader to go through all the recent headlines from those sites, and you can even read the content from within the reader.
There’s a lot to like about RSS technology and the idea that it will save you time in web browsing. But there’s also a lot to learn about it, and a lot that could be improved. So, starting with the Your Take question asking you to tout the reader of your choice, I’m going to make U.S. Independence Day week into RSS Week here at MediaShift. We have a Top 5 dedicated to RSS, and tomorrow I’ll have a special Guide to RSS.
Today is the day to dream a little dream, hope a little hope, and imagine a future time when RSS technology turns a little less geeky and becomes more practical for the common news junkie. I have tried various news readers and personalized news sites but very few have become constant companions. I don’t want the feed reader to add more time to my reading day — I want to subtract the searching, the yearning, the culling, the off-topic tangents that take me away from what I want.
10 Steps to Making Really Satisfying Syndication
1. Better suggested feeds. Some feed readers helpfully suggest other feeds that might interest me. That’s nice, but very few have comprehensive lists of what I might want.
2. Recommend stories or posts depending on my preferences. Give more personalization features that let me filter the barrage of reading material in a meaningful way based on what types of information I want and my mood. For instance, today I might want an emphasis on sports and business and tomorrow I might want updates on the War on Terror and political policy.
3. Automatically rank all posts or stories depending on how other people rate them, or by how many other people read them. Some sites such as Digg or Daily RSS offer community-rated news, but not within a news reader’s interface.
4. Show me related posts. As I’m reading, if I find a story that I particularly like, I’d like to see blogs that refer to that story or other stories that are similar to that one.
5. When pulling up one particular source, such as New York Times Technology or BuzzMachine, let me order the posts by Most Relevant to my preferences, or Most Popular by other readers, or Most Commented On (if they are blog posts with comments). That gives me a better idea of what I should read.
6. Learn my preferences dynamically. Based on what I read and click on over time, the RSS reader could start to order my sources and the articles by my past behavior. This is a similar functionality to the personalized news site, Findory.
7. Tangent warnings. If I start to read articles or blog posts that are not in my preferred subject areas, the RSS reader should warn me in a polite but firm way that I am going off on a tangent and need to focus.
8. Make adding feeds a snap. If I am visiting a site or blog, I don’t want to have to hunt around to find its RSS feed link. I want some type of shortcut that will add the page’s feed to my reader in as few steps as possible.
9. Highlight hot topics. A computer algorithm could search through all the stories I subscribe to (and perhaps related ones online) and find the hot topics that people are writing about and create a running list of these.
10. Block news I don’t want. Maybe I’m tired of news from Iraq or the World Cup, or I’ve taped the Oscars on my DVR and don’t want to know who won them yet. Create a “block news” feature that lets me block news stories or blog posts on these topics that I don’t want to see.
Some of these features exist in part in current news readers, and some are on the drawing board. The personalized RSS news reader, Feeds 2.0, shows some promise and I’ve just started playing around with that in the beta test. And blogger Chrono Cracker has a nice list of 25 features he’d like to see in The Perfect RSS Web-Based Reader.
Now it’s your turn. What features would make RSS feed readers better, more potent, and help you save time? How would you describe the perfect RSS news reader? Share your thoughts below in comments.