The Stochastic Game
Ramblings of General Geekery

RSS feeds and the zen of the newspaper reader

I see a lot of articles on the internet these days about ways to trim down your RSS subscriptions, how to manage your time to read through all your items, etc. My opinion on this is the complete opposite.

I say: subscribe to many RSS feeds. Leave most of them unread. Or set them as read after merely glancing at the article titles.

Most RSS feeds have crappy articles (insert a snappy joke about this one here) or, at least, articles not relevant to you. Most of the RSS feeds you’re subscribed to will only have a small fraction of posts that are of any use to you. It’s the case even with great sites like LifeHacker or DownloadSquad. It may be because you subscribed to the whole feed, instead of a tag-specific feed, or it maybe just because that’s the way things are.

When you read a newspaper, you leave articles unread all the time. You skim through a page and only read the articles that look interesting. There are some pages you know you’re not interested in at all, like the astrology and crosswords page, the obituary page, the sports page, the economy page, whatever. These items are effectively kept unread. It doesn’t matter. You can just skim through your feed items and read the ones that look interesting, given their title or author. Leave the other ones unread.

What if you miss something interesting or important? Well, get over it. You’re missing lots of interesting or important things all the time anyway. In this day and age, you’ve got to trust your judgement in filtering out information, and you’ve got to believe that if something is interesting or important enough, it will resurface in several other feeds you’re also subscribed to. Hence the need to subscribe to many feeds.

What about the fact that, with technology, we should really have something that’s better than the way we used to read newspapers? Well you have a better way already. First, you don’t have to go outside to get the newspaper. Second, you don’t have to pay for it (well, the price is bundled with your internet access). Third, you could be reading more targeted stuff by filtering your feeds with keywords and search queries. Yahoo Pipes and other similar services can help you with that if that’s your thing, and you know you won’t be interested in stuff that you don’t know you’re interested in yet (which is an interesting paradox). But at the end of the day, you still need to filter out some stuff.

This whole thing is really about being okay with leaving lots of unread stuff. Recently, there’s been some hype about the “zen mailbox”, where people tell you that it’s okay to delete email or not reply to it. This is the same philosophy, applied to RSS feeds.

Be zen. Unless you live in New York.