On feeds: application posture

EventBox. It’s a great idea – roll all the social/distracting applications in your life into one app so you can close it when it comes time to focus. Yesterday, I decided to give it a go.

I quickly felt that perhaps it was not for me. I think it comes down to posture – how is the app intended to be used? I’ve been using Twitterific and NetNewsWire for quite some time (5+ years in the case of the latter), so let’s compare with their posture:

* NetNewsWire is meant to scan feeds, collect the interesting stuff, read it, repeat
* Twitterific is (beautifully) optimized for scan tweets, reply to a few, post occasionally
* EventBox seems to encourage scanning things, handling the occasional item _in-situ_, and sending the interesting stuff to your browser

I’m not saying that EventBox’s posture is wrong; it’s just different. I’m going to stick with it for a few days and see how I feel about it.

On Feeds: Tactics

Ask enough people what feeds they read and you will quickly hear “too many” and “I suffer from information overload.” I’ve been there too; at one time I subscribed to more than five hundred feeds. A lot of people say you can’t really follow more than fifty feeds _and_ do productive things. I’m not the most productive guy, but I’m comfortably following 239 feeds right now. My secrets:

* Man made the “mark all as read” command for a reason. Use it without shame.
* Skim aggressively. If the title grabs you, check out the first few sentences. If it doesn’t, just skim over the content and let the words and images that may jump out grab you. If they don’t, skip to the next item.
* Don’t add feeds out of guilt or peer-pressure. Know what topics you want to read about. Add feeds that align with those topics. If a feed looks _really_ awesome but doesn’t match a topic, subscribe to it and put it in a “Trial” folder. Evaluate your trials every few weeks.
* Unsubscribe if you find yourself consistently skipping all the items in a feed. NNW and Google Reader both have attention readouts that can help you decide what should go. Do this sort of pruning every few months.

After reading feeds for several years, I’m finally starting to feel like I’m doing it right. How do I know I’m doing it right? Because I recently thought, “hey, I haven’t seen enough awesome today.” And then I open NNW and I’ve got awesome all over me.

On Feeds: My History

Ted Leung recently noted his “blog-aversary”:http://www.sauria.com/blog/2009/01/09/blogaversary/. This reminded me that I’ve been reading feeds for 6-7 years. Shifting from reading centralized media like CNET, Infoworld and even Slashdot to individuals like “Matt Webb”:http://interconnected.org/home/, “Brent Simmons”:http://inessential.com/ and “Simon Willison”:http://simonwillison.net/ was an important event. For me, it was one of those moments where you realize there’s a whole other world of cool stuff to discover, explore and take part in. Certainly I would have a completely different character if I hadn’t discovered people out there on the web, doing their own cool stuff.

When I first started reading feeds, I experimented with some Linux stuff, most notably the crazy “AmphetaDesk”:http://www.disobey.com/amphetadesk/. I quickly settled into loving “NetNewsWire”:http://ranchero.com/. It was the first app I purchased when I got a Mac, and I still use it every day, to this day. Call me a feed reading curmudgeon, but I still think it’s the best way to keep up with lots of sites.

I’ve gone through some shifts in the kinds of feeds I read. I discovered feeds and blogging by “Dave Winer”:http://scripting.com, so I started reading him and the people in his sphere of influence. I quickly figured out that said sphere is an odd social environment that has little relevance to what I do as a developer. For a while, I subscribed to the “must read” influencers, such as Boing Boing. I quickly found that firehose was too strong and, again, not relevant enough.

So instead of trying to figure those worlds out, I started reading more coders. Somehow that lead from reading people who do front-end coding to reading design stuff, which proved quite interesting. These days I’ve been subscribing to people writing about “information design”:http://konigi.com, “visualization”:http://www.flight404.com/blog, “open source hardware”:http://tinker.it/now, “game criticism”:http://www.rockpapershotgun.com and “urban design”:http://bldgblog.blogspot.com/. I’m finding lots of awesome there.