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Do You Really Need All Those Feeds in Your Blog Reader?

Posted by Bob Warfield on December 18, 2008

I just read something from Louis Gray that seriously resonated:

…there are a large number of sites who act like they are the only game in town, and that they must cover every single story.

To those guys, please stop. Seriously.

In the tech blogging sphere, there is a serious echo chamber.

Amen, Louis, amen. 

I use Google Reader which lets you group your feeds into folders.  For the record, my folders are A-List, Bulk Feeds, Customer Service, Marketing, SaaS, TechUI, and Web20.   I won’t bother to explain the meaning of each, it isn’t relevant.  But let me tell you the Bulk Feed folder is the one containing 60-70% of the posts and they are frankly some of the least interesting posts in the reader.  These are only 10 out of the 180 odd blogs I subscribe to yet I have to spend most of my reader time trying to get through the blizzard of posts from those 10.   To top it all off, you can count on 80% overlap when each of the 10 reports on a story, and you can also assume a lot of the 10 will all report the same stories. 

Who are the Bulk Feed blogs?  The usual suspects:  TechCrunch, GigaOm, Techmeme, and several others.  There’s some that are unusual, like Scoble’s Shared Items.  What do they have in common?  They generate a huge shower of posts either because they represent the efforts of many writers (e.g. TechCrunch) or they are derivatives (i.e. Scoble’s Shared Items).  It’s useful to have these for current events and because sometimes I’ll catch some news the rest of my feeds miss. 

I have a pretty good idea of what my capacity to read blogs is.  It’s easy to monitor.  If the unread number creeps relentlessly upward yet I find little to comment on in my own blog, it’s time to kick some out and find some new ones to subscribe to.  Invariably I am tempted to knock one of the 10 out of Bulk Feeds in order to add an A-Lister, or perhaps one of the more specialized bloggers that matches my interests.  I’ve never been disappointed when I knocked a Bulk Feed out so far.  Mashable was the most recent one tossed out.  That’s not to say there’s anything at all wrong with Mashable.  I used to enjoy reading their articles, but they were just too much like what I’d already seen and something had to go to make room for more diverse material.

When the unread count gets too high, I get medieval on the BulkList first.  Techmeme is always the first victim.  I like Techmeme, but I never use it as a source of news.  It is a source of what is hot.  It measures the Echo in the Echo Chamber.  That’s interesting data to me, but it grows stale quickly, so I have no compunction about marking it all as read. 

Here’s another thing I’m on the verge of acting on.  I’ve commented before that as blogs get big, they want to de-emphasize Trackbacks.  As a blogger, I feel that Trackbacks are essential as a way to share the conversation.  I think they bring real value to the readers of both ends of the Trackback.  And, I feel that big successful blogs that de-emphasize, or worse, eliminate Trackbacks are just trying to monopolize the conversation.  I don’t see why I’d want to support that, or why any other blogger would either.  Why link to a blog that does that?  I leave it as an exercise to the reader (actually it mostly matters if you are a blogger) to check out which of your BulkFeed subscriptions doesn’t do Trackbacks and ask yourself whether you need to keep reading them or not.

Getting back to the issue at hand, it’s important to remember that while the BulkFeeds are important, they lack diversity and depth for the most part.  There is more to the blogosphere to be had.  A lot more.  In fact, you’re barely scratching the surface if you haven’t searched out the more independent thinkers.  The Internet is a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, it makes possible the Long Tail.  On the other, it reduces the friction so much that you wind up with a much more potent Echo Chamber.  People become afraid of the Long Tail because they already have too much information to process.  The reality is, the Long Tail will raise their signal to noise ratio and they should be eliminating not from the tail, but from the mainstream.

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If you look at Scobleizer, no trackbacks.  Just an automatic list of “possibly related” articles.  Trackbacks are a big part of the conversation, and Scoble is a conversation guy.  Yet, he has made the decision to limit his conversations to the stoccato of a Twitter/Friendfeed rather than the more learned discourse trackbacks make possible.  It’s a mistake.  He’s musing over the time trade offs of blogging vs Twitter/Friendfeed, and choosing not to do Trackbacks is one more time trade off that works against the blog.

7 Responses to “Do You Really Need All Those Feeds in Your Blog Reader?”

  1. den said

    These are all good points Bob but I think those of us who are trying to use these tools intelligently have learned that content quality is what matters rather than deluging RSS readers with link bait and pimp pages. The difficulty comes for those who are new to these tools – and let’s face it the world is a big place – so this is timely advice as we move into 2009 where attention value becomes even more of an issue than in the past.

  2. […] declared open war on embargoes, which touched off an insightful article from Louis Gray. (Thanks to this article from Smoothspan for sending me […]

  3. […] Do You Really Need All Those Feeds in Your Blog Reader? « SmoothSpan Blog […]

  4. friarminor said

    I’m one of those who need fortitude to be able to pry myself away from those ‘bulk’ type of feeds, Bob. But come to think of it, I do find some gems there occasionally and for that I do feel that they still serve some form of use. But, I’m just learning so reading from you and other ‘leading minds’ can only help me improve and filter the noise.


    Alain Yap

  5. smoothspan said

    Alain, there are definitely gems that come and go in those feeds. I’m by no means suggesting eliminating them all, but right now I have too much overlap there!



  6. […] written on the Echo Chamber many times in the past (Mediocrity Amplifier, Echo Chamber Fail, Louis Gray Resonation, Deconstructing Techmeme), and all of it negatively.  For me, the most interesting search results […]

  7. […] written on the Echo Chamber many times in the past (Mediocrity Amplifier, Echo Chamber Fail, Louis Gray Resonation, Deconstructing Techmeme), and all of it negatively.  For me, the most interesting search results […]

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