Why RSS doesn't quite work

Catching up with my blog reading, I stumbled across a post by Dana Hanna, who is currently creating “An App a Day“, in which he says the following:

I have two types of feeds I’d like to subscribe to. I’ll call them hot feeds and cold feeds.

Cold feeds are … things that I want to read even 3 days after they were published. I’d like them to behave like an e-mail inbox. Stay there until I read you.

Hot feeds … are like stock prices. I want them now while they are hot, but never again … Things that I care about when they are new, but don’t want to be bothered by ALL of them … I don’t want to have to sort through them like an inbox.

Note: I can’t get his permalinks to work, so if you visit his site, head for the September 19th entry.

And I almost completely agree with this approach.

To use his terms, the cold feed example is perfect. I want my RSS reader to grab the latest content and store it until I decide what to do with it, exactly like an email inbox. Then I can choose to ignore, read or delete as I want.

So, given that I was away from the PC for a few days, I could come back, skim through the subject lines and decided quickly whether to read or discard the items listed (usually a mass delete, quickest way to catchup!).

However I think the hot feeds idea is where the real value lies. If my RSS reader knows that, for example, I only want to EVER store the most recent 10, or 20, items from a certain feed, it can automatically discard the rest after a given time period. I’m still not a prolific RSS user but I wager that the vast majority of my feeds are “hot”.

I don’t care if I don’t read them all, I don’t want to have to bother with items that are older than a few days or even hours, so just delete them for me. BBC News from last week? Why would I want to read that? Why SHOULD I have to make a decision and do all the leg work of deleting the items as I currently have to in many RSS readers.

And yes, I consider “Mark all as read” as a kludge. That doesn’t help me, as I still have to take some action and without it I have folders full of starred or bolded items, waiting, needing, urging me to read them. I don’t want to fire up my RSS Reader, wait while it grabs all the latest items and then stare in disbelief when it reports that I have “4379 Unread Items”. That’s just not on, and there is no reason for it to happen. The machines don’t rule us. Yet.

Hmmm, there is an entire post in that second last sentence but I digress.

So, find me an RSS reader that handles these “hot feeds” in a sensible, unobstrusive way and I might, finally, be converted. Of course, there is probably one out there already, so let me add a few caveats:

1. It MUST MUST MUST be one-click to add a new feed.
None of this “File > New Feed”, enter URL, click OK, wait… click OK again, nonsense (and, as an aside, why DOES the File menu still exist in so many places, I don’t deal with “Files” in my browser!)

2. It must be unobtrusive, I don’t want pop messages each and everytime a new item is found, or at the very least it must BY DEFAULT not offer notification messages.

3. It must work well with Firefox. I’m not bothered about it being an extension, but it must play nice with Firefox or the deal is off.

4. It must be easy and quick to get to the site I’m reading as, for most of my usage, I will want to interact with the site in some way, be it to leave a comment, or persue other parts of the site itself.

5. It must be free. Why? Because I already HAVE a free RSS reader (Sage) and there are many other free options. The “hot feeds” functionality isn’t THAT much of a competition killer, yet I’ve still not seen it implemented well.

I’m finding fewer and fewer barriers, and I’m pretty sure that my RSS usage will continue to rise but I fear that, until they are much easier to setup (it’s such a pain having to manually locate the feeds!) and much MUCH easier to maintain they will remain beyond the boundary that I have pegged out.

This site is called informationally overloaded for a reason, and until RSS readers start to include better house-keeping they will continue to fall short.

Still not sure what RSS is? Think of it as “Ready for Some Stories“.
And, as I said, there are many RSS readers, or “News Aggregators” (LONG list!) out there but I sure as hell ain’t trying them all.


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