Dave Naylor and I were IMing today about IE 7′s new RSS feature. He was very excited. I haven’t tried it yet, but the screenshot he sent me didn’t make me think it was better than the RSS Bandit feed reader I currently use. I’ve been meaning to write about that anyway, so this gave me an excuse.
Let me preface this by saying that everyone seems a bit different on how they read feeds. Some do it for pleasure, and they aren’t worried about missing something, in the same way they might not worry if they missed a day or two of reading the newspaper. Others read for work and maybe manage a ton of feeds (that’s me). Others seem to want to read one feed at a time, something I’ve seen some people describe as “wrong” or “stupid.”
My feeling is that there is no “right” way to read feeds. Anyone who tells you that is the stupid one. What’s the “right” way to read a newspaper or watch TV. Can you start with Business and then read the main news sections. Do you need to watch each program from beginning to end or is flipping allowed?
Read feeds however you want. What is helpful is to hear about how others do, because you can pick up tips or ideas on how you might improve your own reading.
I’m going to explain how I’ve shifted in my own reading. I hope some find that useful, but like I said, I’m not saying this is the “right” way to read nor that I use the “right” tool that everyone should use. It just what works for me.
My first feed reader was Newsgator, which put feeds into Outlook (why I abandoned Newsgator it is covered here). I had a folder for each individual feed, and I’d go to that folder to read each new item. It was sort of like getting your email from one person filtered into its own folder.
You can do the same in RSS Bandit. For example, look at this picture:
You can see that I’ve highlighted my Daggle feed over in the left-hand column. At the top of the right hand column, I can see all the headlines of new stuff I haven’t read from the feed. Down below, I have the individual feed items.
If I select a particular item, I’ll see the summary (or the entire text of the item, if it’s a full-text feed), as shown below:
If I click on the item’s link, I can have the actual item load into my browser (or within RSS Bandit, if I prefer).
This is how I used to read feeds, one feed at a time, going through each item and deleting them out one by one. Over time, my feeds grew to more than 100, so doing a feed-by-feed, item-by-item read like this was a pain.
Eventually, I discovered that Newsgator allowed me to put several feeds into one folder. By doing this, I could quickly scan all the items from a group of feeds and see what was new. RSS Bandit allows you to do the same. Look at this:
Over on the left-hand side, you can see that I have various folders, such as:
- 1) Search Hot
- 2) Search Medium
- 3) Search Cool
Now those in my “Hot” folder shouldn’t get super excited that I consider them somehow better than other blogs, and those in my “Medium” or “Cool” folders shouldn’t feel insulted. These categories primarily evolved out of how active the various blogs were. Threadwatch is a jumping place. If something’s happening on the web about search, that’s a good place to look. So’s the Search Engine Watch Blog, by the way! I just have it in Search Cool because I already know what’s on the blog. Meanwhile, someone like Dave Naylor or Greg Boser may have an exceptionally great post. But because they don’t post often, I didn’t need to check on their feeds as regularly as with others — at least the way I used to read.
During my day, I’d be watching my Search Hot folder constantly, several times per hour. My Medium, Cool and other folders, I might check them once or twice per day. Of course, the nice thing with RSS Bandit was that if any folder had something new, I could immediately tell because that folder would go bold and show me the number of new items after it.
I felt my feed reading was pretty perfect at this point. I could hit different categories of feeds, see what was going on and not feel overwhelmed. I also thought it was better than the “River Of News” style of reading that Dave Winer talks about in that it was more focused rivers. I didn’t want my Mississippi River of search news getting muddied up by my Missouri River of non-search feeds, for example.
Eventually, I stumbled upon RSS Bandit’s Unread Items folder, and so far I never want to leave it. Here it is in action:
The folder shows me all the unread items from all my feeds at once. No more going into each feed group to see what’s new. Unread Items is where I live throughout the day. I start my morning by seeing what’s new in the folder. I arrow my way down the list, reading the summaries in my top pane and deleting out each item as I read (if you prefer, you can read in the bottom pane — and you can adjust the pane sizes, too). Anything important, I copy the URL into a working file in my web editor, FrontPage (don’t nag me about FrontPage — it works fine for me and has for years).
These days, when I add new feeds, I wonder if it makes sense to put them into various categories any more. I never use those categories now. But organizationally, I think it’s helpful in the long run. Plus, at the moment I don’t have a ton of “personal” or “fun” feeds that I read just for enjoyment. If that changes, I might need to separate them out in some way. Unread Items shows you EVERYTHING from all categories. Eventually, maybe I’d have a folder called Work and one called Fun. Going into either of these folders would do the same as Unread Items, since anything new for that particular folder would be at the top.
I should also mention that while I operate on a “save item elsewhere and delete from RSS Bandit” model, there are better tools built in that I haven’t played with much. Any item can be “flagged” within RSS Bandit, for example You can flag something for review, for follow up and so on, then go into your Review or Follow Up folder to see these. You can also post to del.icio.us, to Blogger and some other places.
I don’t really want to do this, however. I’d like to be able to copy items into various folders according to subjects such as “China Censorship,” so that if I’m going to work on a story long-term on that subject, I can collect all my items I’ve found easily.
I know, I want to tag the items! And yes, I could do that via del.icio.us. But that’s really overkill for me. I’d rather just drag-and-drop an item within RSS Bandit, which you can’t do right now.
I also need to point out that the minimalist display I use in RSS Bandit is on purpose. I just really want to copy link and text to FrontPage, so I keep the look and feel sparse. If I were doing some serious reading in RSS Bandit, there are many templates I could choose from, including making everything appear as if it were on Slashdot, like this:
I’ll have to work up a Search Engine Watch template!
One thing River Of News fans will be disappointed in is that there’s no option to see all your feeds at once like this. For instance, look back up at when I showed what was in my Search Hot folder. Any past read items I hadn’t deleted along with new items were shown. But if I go to the top level My Feeds master folder, I see nothing.
It’s not so much an issue for me, because I use the Unread Items this way, going down through each item one by one and reading in the screen above. Purists I suppose would wish for a single scrolling view with each item in the top screen. That could be better — maybe it will change over time.
I’ll explore a bit more about RSS Bandit in the future, in particular to explain how it is so much more portable from computer to computer than Newsgator, an issue I covered previously.