The Impact of RSS on Information Overload


As my periodic Newzcrawler news feeds flashed before me (every two hours), an item titled “RSS Killed The Infoglut Star” caught my attention. So I commenced to skim through the article, and was struck by the following commentary from the TechDirt (one of many RSS based channels):


“Here is yet another article raving about how RSS changes how they get information. I've heard this same story so many times that I'm a bit confused. I keep trying the various RSS readers, and I just haven't been hooked. I use them for a few days, and then realize that my old method of surfing websites was much more enjoyable and much more efficient”.


The great thing about this article is the nature of the question posed, it is inherently multi-faceted (this may or may not have been the original intent), and I hope to shed light (at least hopefully) on these facets via this post. Here are the facets that I have discerned from this questions (there might be more) which I enumerate as follows:

  • Are New Aggregators providing a better experience than conventional Web Browsing?
    [Yes in my opinion]

  • Even when the total costs vs. benefits of either approach are analyzed?
    [Not at the current time, but
    blogosphere time lag is nothing like what many are used to, the problem will be solved in a matter of weeks (if not sooner) ]


The Case For News Aggregators hosted Browsing over Conventional Browsing


Chad Dickerson’s original article pretty much sums it up, and here is a key excerpt:


“Over the past few years, the Web itself has become like a blabbering acquaintance with a million fleeting and unconnected ideas, and e-mail has become a crowded cocktail party with a few interesting people whose words are obscured by the gaggle of others frantically trying to sell various unmentionables. With more and more traditional media companies supporting RSS every day and the unmediated voices of thought leaders such as Ray Ozzie and Tim Bray coming through my newsreader via RSS-enabled Weblogs, using my newsreader is like having a cocktail party for busy people where the conversation is lively and almost always to the point.”


Information overload is the main problem that News Aggregators alleviate. They enable selective viewing of relevant web content, and this saves time. Even more profound is the fact that the viewing is increasingly contextual; one relevant article leads you to another (See the sharp reader screenshot below).


To show how this process plays out -which I believe unveils what the excitement and challenges are all about- I have enumerated a sequence of events below that journal the actions I took after reading the initial TecDirt RSS feed.


1.      Switched to from Newzcrawler to SharpReader to see if there was additional commentary in my blogosphere (my collection of subscriptions to blogs and other RSS formatted data sources). Newscrawlers inability to connect these posts automatically is what lead to my need to kick off a SharpReader instance

2.      Imported Chad Dickerson’s and TechDirt’s RSS feeds. A quicker approach would be to import an OPML file which Newzcrawler does produce, but Chad’s feed wasn’t part of my subscriptions pool at this point in time (that has changed, and you will see why as you read on)

3.      Attempted to use SharpReader’s “BlogThis plugin” to write this blog entry.


4.      Had to abort! This has nothing to do with SharpReader as it’s use of the IBlogThis and IBlogThis extensions (courtesy of Simon Fell) are exemplary. I realized this post was going to get lengthy and I wanted to use a tool that better served the task of article writing. Thus, I need complete this effort using a Word processor (kicking off Microsoft Word was my initial though)

a.      Quandary! Word has no blogging capability (a glaring omission that I presume the folks at Microsoft, or an ingenious third party, will resolve pretty soon)


5.      Opted to look into OutLook (It also just occurred to me that this might be a good time to look at the NewsGator plugin) which has transparent integration with Word.

6.      Added Chad Dickerson’s RSS feed to my NewsGator subscription lists (his article earned my subscription to his RSS Feeds on a permanent basis, so I added his feed to my Blog Roll)

7.      Added Techdirt’s RSS feed to my channel roll (it was already part of my Newscrawler subscriptions list, but this post earned it separation from my mass of channel feeds, so I added TechDirt to my permanent Channel Roll)

a.      Subscribed to the same RSS feeds using NewsGator (again! I just did this with SharpReader). There is a pattern developing here, how many times do I have to subscribe to the same feeds? Dave Winer’s subscription Harmonizer initiative comes to mind (as I said in a previous post, this guy gets it!). BTW. Google flunked this quick search badly, so I tried Feedster, and received better results (I hope this Google and Blog conundrum hasn’t put Google in a tizzy!)

b.      Back to Newzcrawler to blast a context search over my feeds an viola (the I get the exact page which I then used for the subscription harmonizer url above)


8.      Attempted a Trackback or Pingback to both Chad and TechDirt so that both of the article writers would be aware of my referencing their pieces, but unfortunately neither site had this blog feature in place (or enabled), same applied to a comments facility on either site

9.      Article is completed, it is clearly too long to be a blog post in its own right, so I have to save this as an article/story on my blog site. Hmm. Luckily I am using Virtuoso which supports HTTP and WebDAV to host my Blog Sites -company hosted, personal, and community (It’s wonderful experience using your own technology to do practical things like demonstrating it’s many uses)

a.      I create a Windows Web Folder (could have done the same on Mac OS X or Linux if these were my main working machines; they certainly aren’t that far away from forcing my hand)

b.      I point the Windows folder to my blog’s home directory

c.      Create a new “articles” and “images” sub-folders under my blog’s home directory

d.      Perform a File|Save As from OutLook (telling it I want to save this article as a Web Page; note this is OutLook 2003 although the same should be achievable using 2000)

e.      Copy the larger version of my “SharpReader” image to the “images” folder and then anchor to this from the smaller image in my article (an option for those who want to see an enlarged view of SharpReader connecting Chad’s blog post with the related post from TechDirt)

The Cost-Benefit Analysis of News Aggregators hosted Browsing vs. Conventional Browsing


It was quite a journey (3.5 hours to be precise) getting this article (or post) completed in line with my initial goals (demonstrating why News Aggregators hosted Browsing is better than Conventional Browsing). This might be the route taken by the TechDirt article author, hence the resulting position (not quite there yet). That being the case it’s certainly possible to see how the current costs may exceed perceived immediate benefits.


From a personal perspective this was one the more intriguing blog posts that I have written to date, I spent 3.5 hours on this but, it was absolutely worth it for the following reasons:

  1. Placing the Weblog phenomenon in relevant context; the article and the deliberately placed links help to demystify blogging

  2. Making this article accessible from my blog assists with the dissemination of information and knowledge embedded with this article

  3. The pros and cons of a number of blogosphere tools (News Reader, Content Aggregators, Plugins, Blog Posting Clients and Programming Interfaces etc.) have been unveiled, and I expect most of the issues raised to accelerate product enhancements or spur new product entrants into this most exhilarating space (it’s a win-win situation)

  4. Contextual testing of Virtuoso’s in-built XML Services (Validating XML Parser, XSL-T processor, and SQL-XML), WebDAV, and Weblog Posting API (Blogger, MoveableType, and MetaWeblog) implementations

  5. Continues to validate where my view that the Semantic Web will work as it is rapidly assembling itself at a frenetic pace