Taking an RSS Holiday…

There has been plenty of outcry over the decision by Google to retire Google Reader, which came as a sudden confirmation of something many people had suspected for some time.

I’m one of those affected, and I’ve read quite a few good articles on potential replacements, why it may have happened, and the positive and negative outcomes. I’m hoping that the positive predictions will come true and we’ll see great new products in the RSS space.

Dan's Google Reader Stats

My Google Reader Stats

But rather than rushing into importing my list of 270 feeds straight into a new service, I thought it was a good time to take an enforced break from reading RSS.

I was curious to see what effect it would have on my creativity and productivity – having spent probably an average of 30-60 minutes per day in Google Reader for about 5 years equates to around 900 hours of reading. That’s a little over 38 days of my life spent browsing headlines, hitting J for the next item, and reading through interesting articles before tagging and sharing them.

I’m around 1 week in, and at first I didn’t notice it much.

I was quite relieved to escape from a daily notice that I had 100s of unread items requesting my attention. I still received some interesting articles via email, and some via Twitter etc. I was also able to devote a bit more time to the equally imposing number of emails I’d set aside to respond or act on when I had time.

But after a few days, I started to miss certain feeds.

Not the mainstream tech publication feeds that churn out endless identikit stories on the latest Apple or Google news etc.

But the niche publishers and bloggers who are sometimes completely unrelated to work, but to which I subscribed because they’re just fascinating, or have a great writing style, or I met them somewhere and chatted.

And the feeds I’d set up via Google News Searches etc to feed me content suitable for some of my personal projects.


That’s why we need RSS Readers:

A few of the people I missed are connected to me via Facebook, Twitter or Google+, and some of their content still serviced. But real-time is fleeting, and their latest blog post may have appeared while I was working, sleeping, or in the toilet. By the time I came back, their link has been submerged under pictures of their family, the latest memes, or other updates from other friends.

Growing up, a regular ritual was the Sunday broadsheet with a relaxing breakfast as we’d exchange the sections we wanted to take a look at. And Reader replaced that by allowing me to schedule my blog reading for times when I wasn’t in the middle of work or family life, and could spend an hour or two relaxing and enjoying reading great articles.

Real-time updates are great for breaking news, or responding to customers etc.

They’re rubbish for being able to relax and enjoy lengthy meandering articles about the favourite passions of a writer. Or a complex debate over the merits of a particular issue. Or anything that requires you to stop multitasking.

Email updates are fine, and some work fairly well. Percolate does a reasonable job of highlighting some articles I find interesting, for example.

But I don’t want what’s popular on social networks today as my sole source of information.

I want the hidden niche gems I’ve somehow discovered and collected like a digital scrapbook. And if I’ve been away, I want to go through the last few posts to catch up, without having to run around 200 urls.

RSS obviously hasn’t worked for Google as a proposition to make enough money to justify continuing – hence the demise of Google Reader, Adwords for Feeds, and likely Feedburner sometime soon.

But after taking stock of my RSS holiday, trimming down the number of sites I really need, and getting used to the idea I don’t need RSS Feed Zero, I want my Reader back. I don’t want a flashy magazine style application, or other responsive, skeuomorphic mobile first bells and whistles.

I just want a clear, simple, and quick way to automatically collect the content I want in a place where I can visit when I want to be inspired.

I’ll let you know when I’ve settled into a new RSS home.