Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Year's (Media) Diet Part 5: RSS

This is the fifth installment in a series about new approaches to media I hope to adopt and maintain throughout the year.

Part One was a list of reading/thinking that has inspired me to make some changes, while Part Two honed in on the realization of my "intellectual obesity." I then jumped into Facebook headfirst in Part Three before Part Four found me all-a-twitter.

Today's post explores how I've cut back on the online reading I do via Google Reader. 

Note: Before I get into things, if you're not familiar with the term "RSS," you should watch this 90 second introduction/explanation first.


When I first starting cutting back my RSS intake last year, I was subscribed to about 200 feeds; according to the stats that Google Reader keeps, since October of 2005 I've seen over 45,000 items pass through my reader.

With this torrent of information before me, making the choice between what to read (and hopefully respond to) and what to let pass by wasn't all that different than trying to tak a sip of water from a fire hydrant. It was just too much, too fast. It was time to diver the stream somehow.

To start, I grouped my feeds by theme. I had one for art + design, one for theology, one for "friends," and so on. This cut out the intellectual whiplash I'd often experience and helped my focus by keeping me on one topic at a time, but in the end it did nothing to stem the amount of items to be read.

So I decided scrap the "themed" approach and instead focus on organizing my feeds into daily/weekly/monthly folders. This way I was able to stay "in the loop" with those sites whose content was timely (Daily) and not worry about the growing unread count from those providers I wanted to spend more time with (Weekly/Monthly).

I really enjoyed this strategy and it actually helped me unsubsribe from a few feeds when I realized how many of them cross-posted a fair amount of the same content. But after a while of reading this way it felt like I was following three disctint tributaries - and I really missed the single stream.

Fast forward to today where I follow closer to 50 feeds regularly (the "A" feed) and subscribe to another dozen or so (the "B" feed) who rarely update, but are worth keeping tabs on for those times when they either awake from hibernation or officially retire.

(It's worth noting here that I've also begun to use Instapaper for those posts I used to continually "mark as unread." I'm finding the real meaty content is much easier to read and digest when I'm doing so outside of reader.)

The result of simply unsubscribing has been great, and I often find myself with fewer than 10 unread items in my reader at a time - which is a great feeling. Such a great feeling in fact that I might try and whittle the A-List down even more in the next few months...

There's some more stuff I could talk about in regard to this part of my diet, but the post is getting longer than I'd hoped and I'll leave anything extra for either the comments, or perhaps another post another day...

Up next: "Addition and Subtraction...."

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