Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

How I deal with feed overload

RSS, Atom and feed technologies are great for keeping up with blogs, news sites, comics, or any other web site that is frequently updated. By aggregating feeds using a feed reader, you can get an overview of a wide range of different sites all in one place, and keep track of new content from many places with ease.

(Okay, I just re-read that and feel I have a missed opportunity in marketing. Either that or I really need to start making this site more personal again)

The problem with feeds is that there are millions of them and it’s easy to subscribe too many – to the point at which it’s impossible to keep up with them. Your feed reader becomes a swarm of unread items. You want to read everything but you don’t have the time.

This has happened to me before. Back when I was a student and wasn’t in a 9-5 job and playing online games for most of the evening, I had plenty of time to read feeds. But more recently that time has dwindled, and reached the point where I couldn’t keep up with my feeds. I’ve had over 1000 unread items in Google Reader and found it difficult to get that figure down. So, here’s what I did:

  1. Stopped reading feeds that didn’t really interest me. There are some sites that have really interesting weekly features, but the rest of the content really wasn’t that great. Or blogs which have changed their focus to something that no longer interests me. Or my interests have changed and I’m no longer interested in, say, the best new Windows freeware utilities, since I’m now primarily a Mac user. Whatever the reason, these feeds were removed.
  2. Stopped reading feeds which were interesting but that I couldn’t keep up with. The likes of Boing Boing and Engadget are good examples – they are interesting but there are usually several posts per day which I don’t always have time to read. And then once you haven’t read it for a few days you end up with 50-60 unread items so you leave it out because you can’t face reading that many items from the same blog. This happened a few times so in the end I just decided to cut my losses and unsubscribe, and hope that any truly interesting articles on them would get linked from elsewhere.

On the whole, I can keep my feed reader’s unread items down to something sensible with only a small amount of reading each day by following these 2 principles. Even if I don’t read feeds for a few days, it doesn’t take me too long to catch up.

5 Comments

  1. “I’ve had over 1000 unread items in Google Reader and found it difficult to get that figure down”
    This is where you’re going wrong, not in the number of subscriptions, but in treating your aggregator like a mail client where everything has to be read (although BB and Engadget are both definitely too noisy).
    Use it as a river of news aggregator and you’ll be much happier, promise.

  2. in the end I just decided to cut my losses and unsubscribe, and hope that any truly interesting articles on them would get linked from elsewhere.
    I’ll see what I can do, but I already repost too much from BoingBoing!
    I agree with Phil, though – I only skim through the headlines/extracts of posts listed via Bloglines, and only go on to read those which grab my attention. In the case of this site, that’s pretty much every post which doesn’t feature the word ‘Mac’, but at BoingBoing, it might be only 1-in-10.

  3. I have over 200 feeds that I follow. I “don’t” actually read every new post on all those feeds. What I do is skim the headlines. If the headline is something I am interested in, I’ll head over to the site and read the post.
    If it’s something I feel I need to know on one of my programming feeds, I use a program (Together) to store links to be read later.
    This way, I can get through all my feeds, sometimes over 300 new posts, in only about a half an hour.

  4. When it all got too much for me, I exported my bloglines opml file to Feedhub.com and wiped out my bloglines account. The handful of feeds I want to see everything from, I resubscribed to in Bloglines. Feedhub picks items out of my original feeds that it thinks will interest me, and I use a Firefox Bookmark to the newly generated RSS feed in order to easily choose what I actually want to read.

  5. Good point about the blogs that change direction. I’m pretty close to unsubscribing from Ben Hammersley now that he no longer writes anything interesting and just posts snippets of his photo shoots.
    Brad Fitzpatrick is another guy who used to post really interesting stuff. Now it’s just daily Twitter snippets. Meh.