Navigating the RSS backlog
May 2, 2007 6:17 AM   Subscribe

I need RSS backlog management advice. In my RSS reader (Google Reader) right now are 213 subscriptions with 3,852 unread items. I'm really hesitant to dump them all. I've prioritized them as diligently as my current categorization scheme will allow, but I'm definitely open to other schemes. Your advice?

First, a little background on my process and what I get out of subscribing to RSS:

Broadly, my love for RSS is probably the same as everyone else's: I love having ubiquitous access to an everlasting, ever-fresh publication filled with text and images that touch on a range of subjects I find absorbing.

More specifically, I also scour feeds for: News about technology, including write-ups of tools that make my life easier. Off-the-beaten-path stuff happening on the Web to stoke my imagination for lectures and presentations with Web-savvy groups. Ideas to stoke my imagination for the work I do. Commentary on the news from a variety of perspectives.

Everytime I attack the pile, I find new gems, but I haven't had the drawn-out time it would require to get through the whole set of items. And at any rate, with my attention span, I think I'd just start glossing over all the good stuff if I set aside a day and promised to click through all the headlines.

I use Google Reader, generally on list view, and I'm good with the keyboard shortcuts. My one brainstorm so far is that I currently categorize my feeds by topic, and I may flirt with changing that. If I categorized them by priority/value, I could go through the best folders first, and dump items from the lesser folders if the load became too much.

Your thoughts are welcome!!
posted by grrarrgh00 to Technology (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I do have one folder, called "rock stars," that isn't topically organized, but includes a few of my must-reads. That actually works really well.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 6:18 AM on May 2, 2007

I quickly scan my feeds and star the ones that look interesting. Then I go back when I have time and read those, unstarring them in the process. The unstarred posts generally never get read.

I also use topics like priority filters: for example, news feeds get read before "fluff" feeds like CuteOverload. (well, unless I'm in a really bad mood, then pictures of cute kittehs cheers me up).

Another idea - add priority tags as you're scanning feed titles (to_read, maybe, someday).
posted by desjardins at 6:26 AM on May 2, 2007

Oh, forgot to add - the Trends page will show you what you're actually reading/starring/sharing, so if there are feeds that you almost never read/star, you might consider dropping them.
posted by desjardins at 6:28 AM on May 2, 2007

Look for the high-volume feeds (BoingBoing, Slashdot etc) and see if you can scan through them quickly on list view. Also, be aware that with 213 subscriptions, there's a very high chance that a lot of that volume is the same set of stories repeating and relinking their way around a bunch of sites. I consolidated to 'source' sites, which always pop up in the 'via' attributions at the end of posts. I went from over 150 feeds to less than 50, and it's great.

Also, I don't know what any of your subscriptions are - I began to question how much I really needed to know about Flying Spaghetti Monster knitwear and katamari damacy figures made out of cheese.

You might find this, this and this useful.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:38 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I read what I'm interested in reading -- probably 300 feeds, many of which I let sit until they've got the (max) 200 unread items. Occasionally that gets to me so I either skim them or just mark them unread.

The feeds that have something in them that I need to read, I automatically get to (because I don't read feeds in order), so I don't have to worry about missing something critical.

RSS for me is a way to see when websites have updated and read that updated content in a handy format. I don't have any responsibility to any of those feeds to keep up, so I don't care about the whole pile, any more than I care if someone's updated a (non-RSS) website I like but I don't notice.

If you're reading all of your subscriptions lumped together, don't -- read one site's worth at a time. If you want to ignore some sites, ignore some sites. Don't be surprised if later you catch up on them out of interest anyhow.
posted by mendel at 6:42 AM on May 2, 2007

Seconding the "star them, move on, come back later and read the stars". Only I read them in expanded view, that way things are automatically marked as read as I scroll, unless I star them.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:54 AM on May 2, 2007

Just mark them all as read. There will be more tomorrow! Start reading then and stay on top of it. Any time you see 3 posts in a row from one feed that's boring, delete that feed.
posted by Nelson at 8:58 AM on May 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

I try and skim all my feeds all lumped together twice a day and open tabs for the items I feel like I should read in more detail. If I fall behind I deal with things a feed at a time. Usually first checking all the items in my favorite feeds or categories, then checking the top items in other feeds or categories (particularly news feeds) and then quickly marking the rest of them read before moving on to the next. Some times I don't even bother with most of the feeds, I just check a few, and then mark everything else as read.

About once a month I try to be ruthless and delete some feeds.

RSS aggregators are for your convenience, don't become a slave to them.
posted by Good Brain at 9:00 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

You might also want to try something like Yahoo Pipes to narrow a feed down, eliminating all posts about DRM from boingboing for example.
posted by zabuni at 9:17 AM on May 2, 2007

I second what Good Brain said -- RSS readers are for convenience, to to enslave you. I'm an info-junkie too (like it sounds like you are) and often get overwhelmed with the number of feeds and/or postings i have to read. My only advice to you, if a feed gets backed up after not reading it for a while, don't be afraid to employ the "Mark all as read" button if needed. You're probably not going to miss something that'll change your life.
posted by jk252b at 9:49 AM on May 2, 2007

I read in expanded view, and zip past stuff as fast as the page will scroll, skimming stuff as I go. Everything gets auto-marked as read pretty quickly and I star anything I want to actually read later. But more than that, I'd second/third the recommendation to cut down the redundant feeds. I used to see 3, 4, even up to 5 copies of the same basic news item before I did this and things are much better now.
posted by juv3nal at 10:58 AM on May 2, 2007

I have quite a few feeds in my list. The technique that helps me is to insist that I scan quickly. If something catches my attention, I will bookmark it with the Firefox plugin. Otherwise, I usually won't get through much more than the headline on something.

I recall reading an article about the river of news concept and I found it really liberating. I tend to be a little obsessive about things like this so it's really easy for me to get caught up in making sure I don't miss anything. The river of news concept says that, if something is important, it will get blogged about more. This has been my experience. I will sometimes miss a story here and there but the big stories get posted too much to be missed. I find that idea eases my mind if I fall a little behind and have to nuke a few (hundred?) headlines.
posted by MasterShake at 12:53 PM on May 2, 2007

Go through each of your feeds and make a Blink-style snap decision: what's your emotional reaction to not reading this blog/site anymore? If you get a strong "no I wanna!" emotional reaction, keep it. Anything else, BZZT.
posted by WCityMike at 2:28 PM on May 2, 2007

Here's how I've dealt with this problem:

I place my feeds into 2 categories: Must Read Everyday and Check Every Week.

The Must Read Everyday feeds go into Google Reader.

The Check Every Week feeds go into my Bloglines account. I check the Bloglines on the weekends when I have some free time.

This method helps me read only the most important stuff during the week, and relegates my leisure reading to the weekend.

It's worked like a charm.
posted by reenum at 3:20 PM on May 2, 2007

I like that river of news concept -- I noticed that when Milton Friedman died, there was no way to miss it.

I usually think of my rss feeds as a gushing firehose. In theory I could try to wrap my lips around the nozzle and drink, or save all the water in pots and pans and drink it later. But really, drinking all that water is not the point; I just need enough to slake my thirst. So I tiptoe daintily around the informational torrent, sipping occasionally. The only question is whether to install a drain in the floor or let the water levels rise ever higher towards the sky.
posted by blue grama at 4:32 PM on May 5, 2007

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