RSS Readers

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When I hit my mid-afternoon work-lull I typically surf around to a few select sites (mostly blogs) and see what's happening in the online world. During this time it often happens that I'll suddenly remember some blog I haven't seen in a while, like Mighty Girl (famous among dozens -- lol!), or Uber (better than you, daily), and have the joy of a selection of new postings to consume.

I decided it would likely be more efficient to use an RSS reader and subscribe to all these feeds. I downloaded SharpReader and have used it for the last two weeks.

First observation: I'm amazed at how few sites actually put the full content of a posting into their RSS entry. I thought the point of the RSS Reader was to provide a centralized way to keep up to date on a variety of posting-centric sites. If the full post isn't contained in the RSS feed, then the feed mostly just becomes a notification system letting you know when new content is available. Quite the high-bandwidth notification system.

Second observation: Because feed providers really can't customize how their feed looks in your RSS reader, all the postings I read blend together and I find I don't really have any idea where I read something anymore. When I use a web browser the design and colours of a site influence my perceptions of the articles I read. The two become cojoined in my brain and form a memory.

I visited Slashdot with a web browser this afternoon after reading the entries with my RSS reader throughout the morning. My first reaction was surprise that I recognized all the story headings. The second reaction was disappointment that there was nothing new to read. I miss my random forays around the web. My sparks of memory that bring me back to a familiar design with new content.

To get around the fact that many people's feeds only provide a sentence or two, my RSS reader is very quick to fire up the embedded IE browser and show me that actual entry in the context of the website. At first this irritated me, but now I sort of rely on it. Much nicer than having to deal with a variety of separate windows.

Still though, there seems something inherently wrong about the whole RSS reader phenomenon. On one side the efficiency is enticing, but the sites I read through the aggregator become somewhat blurred and hard to distinguish. On the other side the site authors seem to really want you to come to their website directly, but don't want to be left out of the RSS craze and so they comprimise by giving you teasers through the feed and make you hit their site for more. It seems broken somehow. Two sides pulling in different directions. The whole experience leaves me feeling informed yet alone.

What really is the purpose of RSS? Who is it really benefiting?

4 Comments

Thanks for the SharpReader link. I think the default RSS feed in MoveableType is EntryExcerpt which prints the first 20 words. So, I doubt many people change that.

Besides, how will anyone see my slap-together layout if it's all text? ;)

MovableType's default is indeed excerpts, but on the other hand most people that use movabletype had to install it on their own, which means they're almost certainly capable of editing their templates. I'd say that the defaults of Blogger and Typepad are going to have more of an impact than MT at this point.

Hm.

(opens mouth)

Err...

Hm.

(thinks)

Well, the picture of that wonderfully lush field looks nice... :)

Seriously though. It's nice, and I like the simplicity, but the blue-on-gray (text/bkg) border doesn't convince. Me. At all. :)

Oh, and possibly a bug, or possibly done by design, it doesn't adapt well to scaling text, or rather it scales the main text box based on font size, so if I increase text size the menu vanishes to the right and I have to scroll to see it. At least in Firebird 0.7.

Whew! Glad I avoided the leg-breaking. I use my legs often. Generally to walk, but mainly to put them up at a 90-degree angle when I'm laying on the floor to pretend they're skyscrapers, which is probably less useful but a lot more fun.

I've been using the "RSS Reader Panel" extension for Mozilla Firebird (0.7) for the past week or so and I like it. As the name implies, it opens RSS feeds in the sidebar, so I can see if there's a new Slashdot posting and then go check the comments; no need to open a separate application (there's also the "Slashzilla" extension, btw). It doesn't interpret or ignore HTML tags in the feed, but maybe in a later version?

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This page contains a single entry by Dylan published on October 17, 2003 3:27 PM.

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