Feed reading lifecycle

Though RSS feeds are still only used by the ‘lucky few’, I discovered several phases of RSS reading behaviour:

  1. In phase 1 you discover RSS. You are very enthusiastic about having the possibility to see all the news from your favourite resources in one place. When visiting a web site you first look for the orange XML or RSS icon to subscribe. People in phase 1 typically subscribe to 1-50 feeds. You feel very efficient, since all news automagically appears in your feed reader; you've saved yourself hours of useless browsing;
  2. After a while you realize that there is a lot more out there: your 50 feeds are not even the top of the iceberg. You have entered phase 2. Once in while you find an interesting post outside your feeds, but since the rest of the posts from this author are about his cats you decided not to subscribe. Since you don't want to miss the good posts you set up some ‘search feeds’: Technorati, PubSub, Feedster, del.icio.us and friends search the blogsphere for your interest, and automatically notify you. You spend hours tweaking your queries, since you don't want to miss anything. All feeds are nicely organized with a separate folder per subject. You are now checking over 100 feeds on a daily basis;
  3. What started with 5 minutes every day, now cost you over an hour. And you can't skip a single day, since that will cost you two hours next day. Phase 3 is hard work, with an ever increasing number of feeds to read. Robert Scoble mentioned reading 900+ feeds! You know that something has to happen, so you start wielding out your feeds. You unsubscribe feeds of old contacts, feeds about subjects you are no longer interested in, feeds of dead sites… You also put a break on the new feeds you subscribe to. You create a '‘probation’ folder for new feeds, and selectively promote feeds to your main folders. Despite all these efforts you don't feel like you're in control: you are juggling instead;
  4. Usually external influences force you into phase 4. You simply don't have the time anymore to spend hours a day reading. There are two ways to deal with phase 4: people who go the drastical way simply delete all their feeds, except for the 10 feeds that really matter. After all, if something really important happens everybody will write about it within a few hours. The trick is to pick out the relevant feeds publishing all the news you are interested in. Other people are more careful, and simply regroup their feeds by reading frequency: the 10 feeds to be read daily, about 50 feeds to be read once a week if you have time, and many feeds more just in case you want to read them on a bored Sunday afternoon. Reading is a pleasure again, and you feel in control knowing that you can't possibly read everything out there but won't miss any important news.
  5. In phase 5 you see the light! Imagine an army of professional editors searching all available news, and selecting the best pieces. Even better, they publish their results on a handy paper based format called tabloid, which you can take with you wherever you want. And finally, you will be interrupted only once a day.

[Insert fancy graph here]

Inspired by Jason Kottke, I entered phase 4 today. I regrouped all my feeds, and reduced the number of feeds in Bloglines. Furthermore I told Bloglines to notify me only when new items appear in my ‘top’ folder. The first result has been amazing. I had a busy day, so only read my top feeds. I still have a feeling of what is going on whithout having to spend a lot of time reading.

Jeroen Sangers @jeroensangers