Feed Reader Blues

Published on April 8, 2013, and last updated on April 24, 2016.

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I am a long-time RSS feed user. I started using them back in 2006 when I was a wee freshman in college, and I like following many publications from one convenient place. Feed readers are great services. Google Reader (R.I.P.) was my companion for many years, but I suddenly find myself resenting the RSS experience.

It usually goes something like this…

I discover a new blog, website, or publication that has great content and is also relevant to my interests. I’ll visit said blog and skim through some content. If I like what I see then I will usually consume some content in full, maybe leave a comment, maybe share something, and then subscribe to the RSS feed.

If the website publishes content sporadically (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc), I can usually keep up. If they are posting multiple articles everyday, I end up having to skim through them in my feed reader, leaving several articles unread.

Since Google Reader has an inbox-style interface, the unread articles are bold and the ones I’ve already read are less emphasized. As unread articles accumulate, I become more overwhelmed and disheartened. It feels like I’ve failed that publication and myself because I couldn’t keep up. Time to give in and press the ”Mark as read“ button, or delete the feed entirely.

A vicious cycle

I’ll keep subscribing to more feeds, assuring myself that I will find the time to keep up. After a while, the content piles up and becomes unmanageable. This happens to me every six months or so. And if I subscribe to a few large sites that post upwards of 50 articles per day? Forget about it, I’ve totally hosed myself after a few months. Time to delete everything and start over.

After allowing this cyclical behavior to happen for years, I came to the initial conclusion that I hated RSS. However, while writing this article I realized that:

The problem isn’t RSS. The problem is me.

I’ve been abusing RSS all this time and didn’t even know it.

The inbox-style interfaces of many feed readers get very cluttered when the user is following frequently updated websites. If you’ve subscribed to a website like Mashable or Buzzfeed, your reader will soon resemble an e-mail inbox gone awry. The smaller publications you’ve subscribed to will be very difficult to find unless you filter down to those feeds, specifically.

This excerpt from Marco Arment’s article “The power of the RSS reader” sums up my feelings nicely:

I don’t mind missing a random New York Times post, but I’ll regret missing the only Dan’s Data post this month because it was buried under everyone’s basketball tweets and nobody else I follow will link to it later.

The true power of the RSS inbox is keeping you informed of new posts that you probably won’t see linked elsewhere…

So, what now?

I erased all the feeds in my Google Reader account since I heard the news that they will be shutting down in the summer, and I uninstalled the Reeder app for iOS.

Recently, I’ve found myself browsing Layervault’s Designer News and Y Combinator’s Hacker News aggregators whenever I need a short break between working. For any other general news, I check Twitter and Reddit, and for personal stuff I’ll log onto Facebook & Instagram once a day (I’ve deleted the Facebook app from my phone to minimize distractions).

Until a new subscription alternative emerges that I can really get on board with, this will do just fine for now.

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