5 Best Tips for Reducing RSS Information Overload

I had to smile a little when I noticed this post at Hedgehog Librarian about RSS information overload.

First, because I noticed it via multiple feeds in my aggregator. I have a few feeds set up to let me know when others post links to my blog, and other feeds that look for mentions of RSS in librarianship blogs- so I noticed it pretty soon after it was posted.

Second, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to advise others on managing a lot of feed subscriptions without being overwhelmed. The Hedgehog Librarian describes feeling overloaded at 56 subscriptions, and I’m certain others feel the same way- but I have about 460 feed subscriptions in my aggregator, and don’t ever feel overwhelmed by them. I noticed previously that several folks have written posts on managing one’s feeds, but I didn’t bother to read them because I wasn’t having any problems. I thought I’d go back, read them now, and provide a round-up of the best tips.

A couple of the posts I link to below go much further, I think, than the average user would want to- so I’ve limited my recommendations to what I think are the easiest and most useful to more casual users, like the Hedgehog Librarian.

1. Bundle feeds into folders by subject or category
Marjolein Hoekstra recommends categorizing feeds by topic or subject. I do exactly that. For instance, I bundle together in a folder all the feeds I subscribe to about Medical Librarianship. Rather than click on each feed, I click on the folder and can review them all simultaneously. This lets me review and prioritize (see below) with greater speed, convenience, and efficiency.

2. Prioritize
When I don’t have time, I don’t check my feeds. If I only have a little time to spare, I’ll check just those feeds that I care a lot about, like those from Medical Librarianship blogs, feeds from the blogs of good friends, or the feeds that let me know if someone has linked to my blog (that’s how I noticed Marjolein blog-tagging me even though I was hardly reading feeds while on my blogging vacation). After hardly reading any feeds for about 3 weeks, I had a lot stacked up. Some I slogged through, the rest I just trashed. Relax. Except for those very few feeds that you prioritize, do you really have to read through each and every item in your aggregator? No way. Skim subject lines the way you skim the Table of Contents in a journal.

3. Let Google Reader make skimming easier
There are two features that make my aggregator of choice, Google Reader, ideal for managing a lot of feeds.

First, Google Reader lets me review the contents of a feed or folder in “List View” so I can skim the items just by title, check out just the items that look promising, then click “Mark all as read” in order to clear the rest.

Second, Google Reader lets me view the feed list by toggling between “list all” and “only list updated,” and mine is permanently set to “only list updated.” If there aren’t new items for me to read, the feeds aren’t visible to clutter up the interface

4. Filter your feeds
Marjolein and John Tropea also recommend using feed filtering to make sure you only see the posts from a feed that relate to a topic you care about. For instance, you might use Feed Digest, FeedShake, or FeedRinse to do this quickly and easily. Check out this post for step-by-step instructions on how to do it. Also, I just linked a few days ago to a good article on feed filtering that is worth reading.

5. Search-based feeds
I subscribe to a lot of feeds created by very specific searches in feed-generating search tools like PubMed and LibWorm. One of the things I like about LibWorm is that it allows me to create feeds out of the entire biblioblogosphere based on a keyword search, tag search, or subject. I’m also in favor of search-based feeds from technorati or del.icio.us, but only if the search is very specific. If the search is too broad, you’ll only add to the feeling of overload.

It’ll get easier!
It will get easier, I promise. RSS is still a very new technology, and aggregators are still pretty simple. Soon, aggregators will be available that will learn what sort of things you value most, and prioritize your feed contents for you, help you generate search-based feeds, and have built-in functions for mashing/filtering feeds.

Since starting work on this post, I’ve learned that the (alias) Hedgehog Librarian is someone I like and am friendly with from a ListServ (which is one of the reasons I’ve linked to her blog multiple times in this post)- so I’ve happily added her feed to my aggregator so I don’t miss anything else she shares…and I know with confidence that I won’t be overwhelmed. ๐Ÿ˜‰

4 thoughts on “5 Best Tips for Reducing RSS Information Overload

  1. Pingback: Ebling Staff » Blog Archive » davidrothman.net ยป Blog Archive ยป 5 Best Tips for Reducing RSS Information Overload

  2. I’ve found another way of managing my RSS feeds (I have about 250-odd), in addition to the tips listed above. Quick comment on said tips – prioritisation helps, as well as ruthless cataloguing. I’ve found about 15-20 feeds per folder/subject is manageable. Anything more than that, and the entire folder starts looking intimidating and I respond by not going into the folder itself. Denial is a marvellous thing.

    Basically, it’s changing my attitude to my feeds. I realised, when doing some training for people on RSS itself, that I actually use my RSS feeds as a sort of enhanced bookmarks listing, rather than a pure “keeping up to date” resource. If I find a feed for something that _might_ be useful eventually, I’ll add it. That doesn’t mean I need to read everything that feed sends along. It’s just there as an aide memoire against the time that I _do_ need that resource.

    And when I do, it’ll be there, nice and searchable. I can search only my own feeds, to find that resource I _know_ I saw six months ago. That’s something I’ve wished I could do with my bookmarks ever since the very first incarnation of the visual Web, and I _still_ can’t do it.

    Bloglines, current reader of choice (because it synchs with NetNewsWire), has got a new toy called “Playlists”. This would be a good way to put the true daily reading (the comics, personal and cute and fuzzy sites, and the random news updates) into one place without losing their proper catalogue location, and to stave off the bizarre feeling of guilt as I head to Dilbert and studiously ignore the mounting postcount in UN Pulse (for eg only, of course!).

    And I can do it now because should I need to know what’s happening in the UN Library, I can go there and catch up with as many posts as I like, or even search them, in one go.

    Now _that’s_ the beauty of RSS. Not the instant information feed – any mailing list can still do that – but the ability to store the location of the site, and catch up, and search, all at one time. For a librarian, that’s gold; because we don’t generally need to know the information itself. We just need to know that it exists, and where to find it, quickly and easily.

    OK, so maybe I’m just justfying my bizarre feeling of guilt at not being able to keep up with every piece of information that I feel relevant … ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I’d agree that, in all this, prioritisation is the key. Seek to identify the most rewarding feeds and establish a system which initially separates these out.

    Regarding suggestion number one, a different approach to bundling feeds by subject/category, and one I’ve for found personally very effective in managing my 30-40 Bloglines feeds, is to arrange feeds by frequency of reading. I have folders for daily reading, two for weekly reading (one on Monday, one on Thursday), one for monthly (first Thursday in month), with the least valuable of my subscribed feeds consigned to a folder I’ll read if, as and when I have the time.

    The process of setting up this structure forced me to assess the value of individual feeds, enabling me to eliminate weak feeds or those which merely served to provide information better provided by source. The outcome of the sifting is a prioritised folder arrangement which reflects and promotes effective time management.

    This wasn’t my idea, but something I took from Nev and Dave’s Top 10 tips for effective blog reading – part 1: http://www.nevndave.com/2005/12/02/top-10-tips-for-effective-blog-reading-part-1/. Despite the comic appearance, I’ve found this to contain sound wisdom and would commend it to anyone looking for ideas to cope with the problem of excessive feeds. Certain tips may work better for some people than others (for example, my working days are not so regular that I can set a time for when I’ll read my blogs, as suggested in point 4).

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