The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Tuesday, 23 December 2003]

RSS is your friend

I’ve gushed about RSS readers in the past, but the more sites start bringing feeds online, and the more custom feeds that are appearing, the more it’s changing my online experience.

From a strictly consumer perspective, there are three major improvements gained by subscribing to feeds:

  1. Increased speed at consuming content from many different sites

  2. Notifications for sites you watch that update irregularly

  3. Homogenization of the presentation level of content

Being notified of updates to irregularly updates sites is turning out to be a surprisingly large win for me. Instead of visiting a site for updates, then, like one of Skinner’s mice, being negatively conditioned to not return due to the lack of new content and the site slowly fading away into the dark recesses of your bookmarks, the RSS reader will faithfully ping the site every time you refresh the list, and if there’s ever an update, you’ll have it right in front of you.

The old-school way of doing it–by signing up on the site itself to be emailed a notification whenever the site updates–never worked for me, for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to pass out my email address all over the web

  2. I don’t want to lose the flow of content when my email address changes

  3. A lot of sites never implemented that particular functionality

  4. When I read email, I’m in a different frame of mind than when I’m looking for content on the web. Email is two-way, while the web is one-way. Even though there’s some blurring of the lines with commenting systems and trackbacks, it’s more a question of mental state than of technology

Also, the value of having content from different sources presented the same way is really growing on me–I am in control of the presentation in my RSS reader, and can tailor it to whichever look is the most efficient for me to consume, and by having all my content look the same, there’s no being sidetracked by design elements, colors, annoying ads, or what have you. The content, in a sense, is pure.

One of the promises of XML, right there in the flesh: Separation of content from presentation.

Naturally, there’s still the jarring of different voices when switching between feeds, or sometimes even within a feed, but that is mostly invigorating–drifting through a bazaar of voices you’ve selected.

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