RSS is Great. It’s The Content, Presentation, and Functionality That’s Lacking

August 27, 2009

Some meme floating around that RSS is “dead.” No, don’t think so at all.

Although, based on my usage of Google Reader, I might on the surface seem inclined to agree. I still fire up Google Reader daily out of habit, but more often than not, find a fair percentage of what’s in there uninteresting, don’t bother reading it past the headline, then hit “Mark All As Read.” Which is kind of funny, because I hand-picked all the feeds that are in Google Reader to begin with.

reader_reads

I’m increasingly finding more cool stuff via Twitter, and also through the implicit endorsement of the “retweet.”

So here are my issues with Google Reader:

Content: I have found that essentially any blog or website I subscribe to, I don’t find the majority of their content interesting. This shouldn’t be any surprise considering when I pick up a magazine or daily paper, I skim the headlines, ruffle through the pages, and end up reading maybe three or four articles tops, then chuck the wad in the recycle bin. So subscribing to the RSS feed of any major magazine or paper is essentially the same experience wrapped in a different paper.

I have found independent bloggers to not really beat this percentage, because they work alone, aren’t very good writers, or post way too often as they’re chasing the latest hot topic or increasing page views (note: this here blog isn’t any better, and neither is yours).

So the equation is obvious. Take 100 feeds where any individual feed is largely stuff I’m uninterested in, and you still end up with a lot of crap in total.

Presentation: One would hope Google Reader would help the cream to rise to the surface. Maybe the comments or subscribing to people’s shared items would help. Unfortunately, from my perspective it hasn’t. I see barely any activity in comments, and the shares I do see are either “let’s share everything that looks remotely interesting” (overload), or people that share so little I barely notice when they do. Essentially, I haven’t seen either feature get enough traction to where it’s helping me find better content. The feature’s usefulness depends on people using it.

Functionality: Things that limit my use of Google Reader: 1) Too slow to display new articles, compared to Twitter in particular. 2) Sometimes wish I could paste a link directly into Reader and share it. 3) I don’t want to expose my gmail address to the world at large, so am reluctant to fill out the Google Profile and thereby find other people to share with. 4) Finding RSS feeds on websites is a constant hassle. No standard icon, format, or method.

To sum up, I know there is cool stuff out there to read, but Google Reader isn’t helping me find it. The way I have it set up right now, I have a really excellent simulation of the aforementioned Daily Newspaper where I skim the headlines, find a handful of stuff to lazily read, and the rest is uninteresting. “Mark All As Read” is the equivalent of chucking the paper in the recycle bin.

And I’m not motivated to expend the effort to fix things, by rearranging the feeds, subscribing to new ones, figuring out other features of Google Reader, or whatever. More likely, I’ll just get ever more bored with it until I just give up entirely, like so many other services before.

But getting back to the point of the article: RSS is great technology. Unfortunately, it’s being used to disseminate a lot of mediocrity, which Google Reader isn’t helping me dig through.

Additional Reading: Dare Obasanjo, Rest In Peace, RSS, Shooting At Bubbles