Monday, April 13, 2009

Hello RSS, Where's the Real-Time Web? (or why Jesse Stay is a star)

Earlier today, Jesse Stay wrote a post entitled Goodbye RSS. Welcome Real-Time Web!. In the post, Stay described how he experimented with RSS by not looking at his Google Reader feeds for a week. Afterwards, he discovered just how many feeds he didn't need, and cut down on his Google Reader use dramatically.

Here's a couple of the things that Stay took out of his Google Reader feeds, and why:

Most tech blogs - lets face it, I can now pull most of my favorite blogs from sites like FriendFeed and Twitter. Better yet, FriendFeed, Facebook and Twitter work better for “media snacking” because I can filter results by number of people talking about each topic....

Mundane news - I noticed after my week was over that I was subscribed to a lot of just dumb news that really was unimportant to me. It was cool for that “one special article” the authors would some times write, but I found many of those were also sharing on FriendFeed or Facebook....

As you can see from the excerpts above, he has found other services to be preferable to Google Reader. Part of the secret is that magical word real-time:

RSS is not dead. It’s just losing its value. As the web gets more and more real-time, we are less and less having the need to have data pushed to us via RSS - we can go get what we want, when we want it, from any point in time. We can now, through filters and real-time data, retrieve much of the data we want to get, in an environment amongst peers. Google Reader itself is old - it’s slow to adapt, and I just can’t see it keeping up with sites such as FriendFeed, Facebook, or Twitter.

If you've followed me over the years, you know that I've taken a slightly different approach to my reading. While Stay is moving from Google Reader to FriendFeed and other services, I have actually been moving from FriendFeed to Google Reader. While I've stepped back a bit from what I was originally doing, Google Reader is still my preferred interface for reading the entries in the lastfmfeeds FriendFeed room. I also use Google Reader to monitor certain RSS feeds that relate to business, the Inland Empire, music, and NTN Buzztime - I found Stay's post via Google Reader, for example.

The beauty of standards is that Jesse, you, or I can choose our preferred interface to access RSS feeds. In essence, Jesse and I are talking about different RSS readers, because, although not branded as such, services such as FriendFeed and Facebook are RSS readers. Admittedly, FriendFeed has a ton of features and Facebook has two tons of features that make them very desirable (Google's ability to comment on shared items in inferior in this regard), but in effect we're talking about interface preferences.

I've talked a bit about my reading workflow before, but let me rehash a bit of it. Much of my feed reading is done via mobile Google Reader on my Motorola Q phone. When I see an item in a Google Reader feed, I can do one of several things:
  • Leave it unread. Some things are best saved for a desktop or laptop.

  • Read it and do nothing else with it.

  • Read it and immediately share it. This places the item in my Google Reader shared items blog, and also places it in my FriendFeed, where people can like it, comment on it, and so forth.

  • Read it and star it. I do this with items, such as Stay's post, that I want to address later. Technically I could star items rather than leaving them unread - see my first option - but sometimes it works better to leave them unread and not even look at them until later.
The "star" feature is the thing that really stands out for me in Google Reader. In FriendFeed terms, this would be a "private like" - a way to flag something without necessarily letting people know that you've flagged it. Stars are not only valuable for marking items for later public consumption, but also for marking items for private consumption - for example, a story about a business competitor that I don't want said competitor to know that I've seen.

Ah, but what about the real-time feature that Facebook, FriendFeed, and similar services offer? If you are a FriendFeed beta-loving real-time fanatic, you'd better sit down for a moment before you read the following statement:

Although FriendFeed's real-time view LOOKS like real-time, it often ISN'T real-time.

Yes, I know that it gives the illusion of real-time when the stuff goes whizzing by your eyes, and I know that the native FriendFeed items, the comments, and the likes go by at real-time, but there's a lag for everything else. For example, this blog post will be shared to FriendFeed via FeedProxy (FeedBurner) - if I don't perform a manual refresh, or even if I do, there may be a lag of several minutes, or an hour, or possibly days before the post shows up in FriendFeed. Flickr and YouTube items often seem to take hours to show up in FriendFeed (again, unless you perform a manual refresh). Even tweets take several minutes to show up. I'm sorry, folks, but that's not real-time.

Again, this is a difference in interface. I just peeked at my Google Reader feed (no picture, because some super-secret information from LinkedIn and other places is there). Granted it doesn't go by whizzing really fast, but as of right now I have an item with a timestamp of 12:27, one stamped 12:21 (incidentally, an Empoprise-NTN post that had been posted 21 minutes earlier), one stamped 12:18, four stamped 12:06, and so forth.

So, in essence, both traditional RSS readers such as Google Reader and the newfangled ones such as FriendFeed offer some form of "real-time." It's up to each indiidual to choose when to use what. Jesse Stay and I choose to use both types of "RSS readers" for our "real-time" consumption - it's just that we use them a bit differently.

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