RSS beats social networks. It’s all about the “J”

Here’s why I use RSS

I have over 200 sites I follow. Many of them are “just” curation sites, but the majority of them produce original content.  This doesn’t mean I want to read every article from every one of them, but I do want to skim over them to see if I want to read it in more detail. A good RSS reader makes this super easy. RSS is for people who really use the internet a lot.

Here’s my Google Reader workflow

I put it in expanded mode, which means that every article has all the text in the RSS feed displayed instead of just a list of headlines. Then…

  1. Go to the “All” tab, and sort by Newest. This organizes the articles by date published. The fortunate (for serendipity and boredom-fighting) side effect of this is that articles from all my sites are interlaced. Which means that…
  2. Press J to scroll to the next article. Since I sorted by date published, the next article I look at is usually from a different site. For example, the articles I look at might be from sites ordered like this:
    1. Webdesigner Depot *press J*
    2. Shtetl-Optimized *press J*
    3. Information is Beautiful *press J*
    4. Lifehacker *press J*
    5. repeat for 300-800 articles a day
  3. Don’t read every article. Since the whole article (or at least a decent summary) appears each time I press J, I can quickly ascertain if I want to read it in more detail. If it’s short enough or doesn’t require much thought, I read it right then. If it requires more time because it’s long or requires thinking…
  4. Press S to star it. Later, I can go back and read in more detail each article in my starred list.
  5. Use the G+ button to share it on Google+ (Optional). If I want to share it or discuss it, it’s easy to share it to a lot of sources.
Typical Google Reader

Typical Google Reader

This is way easier than visiting a couple hundred websites every day…especially when many of them update very rarely. Let’s be honest, if a website only updates once a month or whatever, I’m going to miss a lot of the content on that site because I’m eventually going to stop going to it and forget about it. RSS eliminates that problem.

Why Social Networks Can’t Do This

Social networks can only kind of fulfill the same purpose as RSS with a good rss client. You’re dependent upon the content getting popular enough amongst your “friends” that someone will post one of them. Even if they do post it, you’ve got to see it posted, trust that friends tastes enough to click all their links, and then go to the original website in another window or tab and determine if you want to read it.

And that’s the key point.  When consuming lots of content, low friction is super important.  Opening a new tab or window doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but not only do you have to multiply those few seconds hundreds of times a day, but you have what is arguably an even bigger factor increasing the friction:  There is some sort of psychological hump involved with opening a new tab.  My attention and ability to manage many tabs are limited resources.  I don’t want to give those resources away based on a mere headline or a few words from someone I’m following on Twitter.

It’s a remarkably fluid experience when I can consume content from hundreds of different sources without moving my eyes from a reading area and without moving my finger from the J key.