I got bit by the RSS bug about two years ago as I used to frequent the same 15-20 websites daily and being able to subscribe to them made keeping up much easier and reduced the chance of me missing something because I didn’t check often enough.
For the unfamiliar, RSS is a way to publish the essential information about a blog post, news article or similar data and make that available to anything that can parse and display that information (e.g., a browser, application, or web service). Podcasts are distributed in this fashion with your “podcatcher” occasionally checking the feed and downloaded a new episode for you.
I used to use Bloglines but am currently enjoying Google’s Reader and am subscribed to 67 different feeds. With a good portion producing new information daily and a few several times an hour, the amount of content is considerable.
A good friend of mine was lamenting to me how his “TiVo chores.” TiVo has an option to automatically record shows it thinks you will like in addition to the shows you tell it to record. For him, he has to make a point to sit down and filter through and/or watch all the shows before he gets too behind. Similarly, for me, I check Google Reader multiple times a day to ensure that I don’t get too far behind.
So having said all of that, the question I have to ask is are we being served ball all this information or are we instead allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by things that don’t really matter? I could probably read only a fraction of the items that I wade through and not be the worse for it, but my compulsive side would make me obsess about the things I didn’t read.
The second complaint another friend of mine made was the fact that by digesting website information via RSS you can often miss out on the other things you see if you visit the website directly. Things like comments, related links, and even in some cases, ads. “Browsing” in the general sense is lost. In the context of a printed newspaper, if you read only the front page, you miss all sorts of content on page 3 or in the Lifestyles section (not to mention the classifieds).
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I can’t help but think there is a considerable amount of growing up and learning we will all have to do to find a balance between the information serving us and us serving the information.