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Solving the Insolvable Problem of Information Overload

RSS, Twitter, and Facebook All Have Their Roles

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Every now and then, a debate will pop up in the Blogosphere/Twitterverse about whether or not RSS is dead. One such debate has been raging this week, and has even got some high profile tech bloggers bickering in an embarrassingly public manner (name-calling and all). 

Do you think RSS is "dead"? Tell us why or why not

Plenty of people reside on both sides of the debate, but the simple fact that there are so many people defending RSS, would seem to indicate to me that it is certainly not dead, because clearly people are using it. I’m using it.

I use Google Reader to try and keep some order to the madness of a world in which content, relevant to what I do and what I’m interested is flowing non-stop. You can do this to some extent with Facebook, Twitter, Buzz, and other services, but I’ve simply not come across anything quite as useful for my particular preferences in this area.

Not everybody makes a living writing content, however, so I can certainly see why it would not appeal as much to the masses in the age of Twitter and Facebook. People are already using these services, and they’re in a user interface that’s easy to understand. Most media outlets and websites have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that can be followed, with content inserted right into the stream that the user is already looking at. 

RSS - Alive and KickingWhile I’m still surprised that RSS didn’t catch on, on a larger scale before the Facebook/Twitter era, services like these have probably eclipsed RSS for most Internet users for good. That doesn’t make RSS dead though. 

And, by the way, I also use Twitter, Facebook, Buzz, Quora, and quite a few other services (including third-party apps, browser extensions, mobile apps, etc.) to keep up with the incredible amount of info coming at me non-stop. The truth is, none of these services (RSS included) truly solves the problem. I’m bombarded (and I know I’m not alone) with information from each one, and none of them will truly get me access to all of the information I want in a single place. RSS probably comes the closest, but it’s not perfect either. It also tends to not be as instant as the others, and it is certainly a realtime web these days. 

As far as I know, there is no service in existence that does what I need perfectly as far as content consumption. 

You might say I oversubscribe to feeds. I follow too many people and organizations on Twitter and Facebook. I follow too many people and topics on Quora. I subscribe to too many email newsletters or alerts. I’m creating too much noise for myself. I would not agree with that, however, because while there is an overwhelming amount of information coming in, a small percentage of it is noise. A lot is echo, sure. But you never know where the most important nugget of info is going to come from. You don’t know where that eureka moment in a story’s development will appear. 

It’s impossible to consume it all. It really is. Even if I devoted 24 hours a day without sleep or spending time with my family or actually writing articles, I could never read every article, blog post, tweet, or status update or watch every video and listen to every podcast and read every email that I would need to truly get all of the information relevant to my interests.

In reporting, there’s no such thing as too much information, because when you leave out information, you leave out parts of the story. And we rely on reporters to tell the story in as accurate a way as possible. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen, and probably happens even more rarely than most people realize. 

So, to make a long story short, RSS is not dead. As long as some people are using it, it has a role. It probably has a bigger role in reporting, blogging, and journalism than it does in the average person’s daily routine, but even if that average person gets their news from Facebook, Twitter, or even the newspaper or TV, there’s a good chance that RSS played some role in helping the reporter of that news consume the information needed to report it – at least some of the time. 

The bad news, again, is that there is nothing available (that I’m aware of) that truly solves the information overload problem. Frankly, I’m not sure it’s truly solvable. As more people create information, our bodies don’t start requiring any less sleep and the days don’t get any longer. So we have to rely on content curation, trust building, our own picking and choosing, and optimization of our own content consumption habits. 

The good news is that we can choose whichever combination of available services to help us through this that we wish. Even more good news is that developers and startups will continue to try and solve the problem in new and different ways, and while that problem may never truly be solved, we can at least achieve progress. The donkey may indefinitely chase the carrot, but at least the donkey keeps moving.

More conversation about the topic on the WPN Facebook page

How do you sift through the content you consume? RSS? Twitter? Facebook? Something else? Tell us about it

Solving the Insolvable Problem of Information Overload
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  • http://news.seolinktagstic.com/pt/seo/ SEO LinkTagstic

    RSS is great & particularly well suited for timely aggregated content that is dynamic and well tailored for presentation and integration with other services like http://feeds.feedburner.com/SEOLinkTagstic

    • Chris Crum

      I’m a fan, but will admit it’s not for everybody, and certainly not perfect.

  • http://www.arcanasphere.com/ MrAndrewJ

    Reading the bickering on TechCrunch reminded me of my college days, when a good flame war was never more than a few clicks away. Back in our day, we had class about it. Except for the script kiddies.

    I appreciate RSS for what it still accomplishes. I use it to have recent tweets show up on my WordPress blog. More importantly, it allows for Podcasts, vlogs and the like to reach possible audiences.

    The achilles heel is that it’s really still a data file. We more experienced types may love them, but they’re too much hassle for most casual users to bother with. So, if not for iTunes bothering with the RSS feeds of a podcast then the enthusiasts alone might not care to listen.

    Yes, RSS has been nearly exclusively the domain of the technically minded. That doesn’t mean that it’s dead. These are the same kind of people who keep twenty sided polyhedrons in demand and continue to use Klingon as a viable language. If they (we?) can do that then RSS surely has plenty of life left in it.

    • Chris Crum

      If nothing else, I suppose the bickering shows how passionate some people are about the subject.

  • Guest

    As a slightly-above-average user, RSS had been a mystery to me for some time. Then I gave Google Reader a go and soon realized what exactly an RSS feed was and how it would benefit me. To quote Areil, It was a whole new world, lol. These days, I get all my info from the RSS feeds. And honestly, I get so much more info on the things that interest me via RSS than I ever did by manually going to each website (which I use to do with bookmarks). I can organize the feeds by topic and just browse headlines for keywords or phrases that’ll pique my interest. A lot of the time I can get the news/info from the headline alone. And the articles that I like or want to revisit, I just star to come back to.

    After easing into this process, I try to encourage others who don’t use RSS to give it a try. I really think that it’s user-friendly enough for the non-geeks out there.

    • Chris Crum

      I think “whole new world” was Jasmine from Aladdin, but point taken.

      • Guest

        Touch

        • Chris Crum

          I was going to include a winking smiley with that response, but I’m not a big fan of using them ;)

  • http://www.incometrigger.com Elizabeth

    It

    • Chris Crum

      Not a bad strategy, but I find that even just sifting through headlines is time consuming (I’m subscribed to many, many feeds – including tweets).

  • http://www.advancedreading.com Bonnie James

    Since we started our speed reading company Advanced Reading Concepts many years ago, the theme in all our ads was information overload. Little did we know back then how incredibly more overloaded we would all become. Please check into one of our weekend courses in Columbus, OH or have us come to your group–we can’t make the information overload go away, but we can make it ever so much easier to sift through and find that important nugget without it being lost–and then digest it with better comprehension and recall!

  • http://www.fleetmatics.com Michael Raia

    At what point will it become unfashionable to refer to current technologies as “dead?”

    As Arrington said, RSS is “plumbing.” Twitter and Facebook hate it but so what? How long will they be around? Another year? Two years? RSS is a basic technology that won’t go away. It may change, but the delivery of a variety of published information sources via XML is powerful and infinitely useful.

  • http://www.pcdriverhelper.com/Video+Card_S3+Graphics%2C+Inc..html buyit

    RSS Great!
    (1) diversity, the aggregation of personalized information. RSS is based on XML (Extensible Markup Language, extensible Markup Language) standard, is a widely used Internet content packaging and delivery protocol, any content source can be used to publish in this way, including professional news network marketing, business, and even personal and other sites. If the client install RSS reader software, users can follow the preferences, there are selectively interested in the contents of the source of aggregate to the software interface, multi-source information to provide users with “one-stop” service.

    (2) strong information release of limitation, and low cost. Since RSS reader client information is updated with the feeds of information and timely updates, so greatly improved the timeliness and value of information. In addition, the server-side information on RSS technology packaged in a very simple and one-time work to make long-term marginal cost of dissemination of information is almost zero, which is totally traditional e-mail, Internet browsing and other distribution methods can not match .

    (3) no “junk” information and information overload problem. The information in RSS reader is fully subscribed by the user, the user does not subscribe to the content and pop-up ads, spam and other irrelevant information will be completely masked. Thus there will be no disturbing “noise” interference. In addition, the client does not need special access to information like e-mail as the “RSS mailbox” to store, so do not worry too much information content of the problem.

    (4) does not affect the virus mail. Save in RSS reader only a summary of the subscription information, to view its details to the site and read through a browser is not much difference, so do not worry about the harm the virus e-mail.

    (5) to facilitate local content management. Download the RSS reader on the inside subscription, users can read offline, the archive retention, search and sort a variety of management operations related to classification, the reader software is not only a “reading” device, but also a user-portable ” the database. “

  • http://www.techmanage.net Joanne Gucwa

    Great article!

    Sorting by topic is helpful, as is sorting by keyword. A combination of BOTH works for me, with copying important information into every topic and relevant keyword. Unlike in science, we can use multiple taxonomies to categorize bits and pieces of important information. And digital memory is cheap, so why not “copy and paste” into as many categories as relevant to you?

  • http://www.mlmconsultant.com/mlm_software.htm Rod

    RSS is via Google reader that makes software obsolete. Also have my dependable folders for sorting and saving information. RSS is never going away. Twitter seems to get spammier (?) by the day is it going the way of email??? People seem to overuse it and it is becoming more commercialized. I tweeted you give me money! ARrrgh!

  • http://www.cvm.tamu.edu/wklemm W. R. Klemm, “Memory Medic”

    Lots of information is useful, of course. But one consequence I am convinced is occurring, in both students and professional colleagues alike, is that people are losing capacity to comprehend and remember what they read. I see a growing incidence of situations where readers miss key ideas and make interpretive errors in what they read.

    That is one reason I write books, a blog, and newspaper articles on improving memory.

    • Chris Crum

      This is a subject I am personally interested in – how the mind deals with all of this info. I’d guess that people have always made interpretive errors in what they read, but in the digital age with so many incoming sources, the problem has to be complicated even more.

  • http://www.my6sense.com Dan

    http://www.quora.com/What-are-some-good-strategies-for-dealing-with-information-overload/answer/Louis-Gray

  • http://blog.bscopes.com/ Brad Balfour

    I agree. For what you do, you need the information you are subscribing to. But the tools are failing you. More and more textual rivers of info are not helping.

    My opinion has always been that we need something radically different to help cut through the clutter. That, in my opinion, is something visual. Something to give an completely different approach to finding the things you need to read and deal with.

    Our latest version of this kind of technology is available over at Bscopes.com. We’d be very interested in getting your feedback and those of your blog readers.

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