Subscribe Less To Read More

June 27th, 2007

Data syndication has changed my life. And, if you’re reading this (or space-barring past it!), it’s probably changed yours, too. A long time ago, but not so long ago that there weren’t any good web sites yet, if you wanted a break from the daily humdrum of your job or life, you might find yourself methodically cruising your browser bookmarks, “just to see” if there had been any recent updates to your favorite web content.

Syndication, e.g. RSS, changed all of that. Now, instead of wasting hours clicking bookmarks and scanning visually for new material, you simply press the space bar in NetNewsWire. Again, and again, and again. Throughout the day, and possibly without paying much attention at all to the updated content as it whizzes by. Once you’ve space-barred through everything the web has to offer, you might even find yourself guiltily refreshing feeds, putting an undue burden on servers of the world just to feed your need for more inputs. Or is that just me?

Syndication has brought luxury of riches, such that I’ve overcompensated for the desire to always have something new to read, by oversubscribing to everything the world has to offer. Now I’ve got plenty to read, but I’m interested in almost none of it.

I have thought about culling my subscription list for some time, and occasionally have done so upon realizing that some alleged programmer’s blog is actually more often about her uninspired opinions of the local school board, or the Latin American drug trade, than about the programming topics I expected. It always feels good to drop one of these feeds with the knowledge that my space-barring thumb will be saved much future work.

Today I finally took a good look at Rands In Repose, a weblog about engineering management, but also about Apple, and about giving presentations, and about having a slightly cutting take on all that happens in the world, and damn it all, brilliantly written! It’s a rare instance of finding a weblog where I not only want to keenly monitor what comes next, but also want to dig deep into the archives to take in what came before. Other weblogs have inspired this reaction (e.g. Joel on Software and Daring Fireball), but these moments don’t come often. Content like this demands to be read, yet I often end up flagging it for later access, because I don’t have enough time right now. Where is all the time going? Space-barring through crap! (Or writing long-winded weblog entries … )

I unsubscribed from 20 feeds today and added Rands. The new “Attention Report” in NetNewsWire 3, combined with the existing “Dinosaur Report” makes it easy to identify candidates for the knife. In general, if I space-bar through something all the time, I trust that it will show up as unloved on the attention report. So far it’s been a “trust but verify” type of experiment. “But I love that guy! I’m sure this is a mistake. Double-click. Oh yeah, he’s a brilliant Mac programmer who writes mostly about the Chinese democracy movement.”

My closing advice? Unsubscribe to at least 10 weblogs today (possibly this one!), and add Rands. Expect and accept only the best when you next press the space bar. Then get back to work!

19 Responses to “Subscribe Less To Read More”

  1. Alexandra Says:

    I had an impression, I’ve just read about myself :) Thanks for an interesting link (already flagged a couple of articles, same, don’t have time right now). As for unsubscribing from 10 weblogs via “Least Attention” feature – I’ve done it last week, so I was glad I could add something interesting back.

  2. Laurent Says:

    I’ve just flagged your entry for further reading… ;-)

  3. Conor Says:

    This article is not helping the unsubscribe process, now I have one more feed – Rand in Repose.

  4. Jeff Johnson Says:

    I just subscribed to the comments feed for this entry! :-)
    My approach is to subscribe to everything and skip most everything. This is easy in Vienna, because there’s a summary column for the articles list, so I can quickly scan and see whether there’s anything worth reading. If not, I just press ‘s’ to skip the feed and move to the next feed with unread articles. I never use spacebar (though that works too).

  5. John Gruber Says:

    You could save time catching up on Rands’s archive by just buying his new book. I got my copy last week at WWDC, and highly recommend it.

  6. charles Says:

    One of the blog that has surprisingly stayed in my feeds is Coding Horror. Some entries are very Microsoft-specific, so I just skip, but many entries are also more general and worth reading.

    And yes, drop feeds!!

  7. Sebastiaan de With Says:

    “…get back to work!”

    Best. Post. Ever. ;)

  8. Tim Uruski Says:

    My rule of thumb is to clear out feeds whenever the source column gets a scrollbar, and never group them into folders. The 12″ screen of my PowerBook keeps this list very short.

  9. pauldwaite Says:

    What I don’t quite get is why we all still call RSS “syndication”. I know that’s kinda what the S stands for, but it’s not what we use RSS for.

    Syndication is where the same content appears in several publications. In theory, you can use RSS to syndicate your articles, cos other web sites can monitor your RSS feed and re-publish your content on their site.

    Of course, there’s no point to that, as once something’s published on one web site, everyone in the world can visit it there. No point running it somewhere else. One URL is much simpler for everyone (people, Google, del.icio.us) to work it.

    But RSS allows your readers to get new content from you whenever you publish it too. There’s another “S” word for that: subscription.

  10. Timothy Knox Says:

    I hate to be part of the problem, but I am going to suggest another programmer’s blog that is on my must-read list: http://steve-yegge.blogspot.com/

    I worked at Amazon for some of the same time Stevey was there, and read some of his early, internal-to-Amazon-only blog posts with great interest and relish, and still consider his “Five Essential Phone Screen Questions” post (which somehow leaked to the great wide internet) one of the most useful articles on the subject. Ever. (Even more so than Joel’s Guerilla Guide To Interviewing.)

    So even though you are urging your readers to unsubscribe blogs (an exercise I recently undertook for myself, eliminating three dozen (yikes!) blogs I never really read), I would urge them to check this one out. Really. He talks about programming, and being a programmer, and not much about the Chinese democracy movement. :-)

  11. Cameron Says:

    Echo’d. Been following Rands for a while, and strongly looking at getting his book due to it. His insights into the software development management and development process and not only good reads but also found to be quite valuable.

    So much good content … so little time.

  12. Thom Says:

    I’ve been trying to cull feeds, but NetNewsWire’s attention reports have been useless – they only measure click-throughs, and thereby punish full-text feeds. I wish there was a sort of ‘smart playlist’ function for newsreaders…

  13. Brett Says:

    Oh dear, don’t I feel dumb… I didn’t know you could spacebar through unread feeds in NNW!

    /embarrassed

  14. Gareth Says:

    Sounds to me like you have a case of NADD!

  15. Bruce Says:

    I can’t unsubscribe to that many; I’m only read three feeds! (In Safari, no less.) Those feeds are: Red Sweater, Daring Fireball, and PunBB Trac.

  16. Ryan Ballantyne Says:

    Not long after I first began subscribing to RSS feeds (which was around a year ago, I held out for a long time), I realized that it was slowly consuming my life. Of course, this is exactly the opposite of what it was made to do, but I just couldn’t stop adding feeds and soon it got to the point where I would have to neglect important things in order to keep up (and sometimes I did! :o ).

    Eventually (I’m a little slow) the solution dawned on me: I just had to let go. Why should I care if I have feeds with unread items? Why do I need to devote attention to every single headline, even if it’s just to give it the (spacebar) finger?

    Now, I don’t even use the spacebar. It’s useless if you don’t want to move through everything sequentially, and I don’t. I access my many feeds nearly at random, time permitting, and pick a few interesting things to read each day. Many news items march through my copy of NetNewsWire and drop off the feed unread. This way, I get to keep a very diverse subscription list, and I get to keep my life; it’s the best of both worlds.

    PS – when you come home from vacation, don’t “catch up”. You don’t owe your feeds any such thing. Just hit command-k on everything and start over. You’ll be glad you did.

  17. Peter Hosey Says:

    It’s a rare instance of finding a weblog where I not only want to keenly monitor what comes next, but also want to dig deep into the archives to take in what came before.

    Coding Horror inspired the same reaction in me.

  18. Christopher Humphries Says:

    Wow thanks for http://www.randsinrepose.com/archives/2007/02/25/a_glimpse_and_a_hook.html and everything else in his blog linkage :)

  19. Daniel Pasco Says:

    “Managing Humans is an excellent book.” I’ve been encouraging my guys to read it, too: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlpasco/sets/72157600588254210/

    Seriously, we’ve all enjoyed it.

    -Daniel

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