I’ve been an RSS junkie for many years. As a blogger who tries to stay on top of photography and other news related topics, I was a very early adopter with regards to RSS. I’ve tried many of the major and lesser known RSS readers over the years. The ones I’ve spent the most time with though were first Bloglines, then NewsGator and finally Google Reader. Every day I’d pour through feeds of my favorite news sites and bloggers looking for interesting items. I had custom search feeds set up. I had lists prioritized into A, B and C content. I had lists organized by subject, etc. etc.
But the same thing seemed to happen over and over and over again. I just couldn’t keep up. And my RSS reader would fill up with tons of posts until I felt guilty enough for falling behind and then I’d just nuke the entire unread reader and mark everything as read and start over.
My biggest problem with RSS can be summed up in four words: “too much crap content.” That’s right. As much as I would find the occasional great story and nugget of news, the vast majority of items were simply of no interest to me. News sites and bloggers (myself included) just publish too much crap.
So about six months ago I did something that seemed revolutionary to me (and felt totally liberating) I walked away from my RSS Reader. I said goodbye. I took my Google Reader icon off of my bookmark tool bar and I haven’t logged in or looked back since.
There was a simple reason why I said goodbye to my RSS Reader. It was FriendFeed. Now for a while I was running around shouting “RSS is dead, RSS is dead,” which isn’t entirely accurate. RSS is actually alive and well. But I think that traditional RSS readers are in fact on the way out.
The biggest difference between FriendFeed and a traditional RSS reader is that FriendFeed better filters your RSS feeds using the FriendFeed community. That’s right. If you choose who you follow carefully (and put them in the right lists) you get basically all the same old content that was swirling around your RSS reader of yesteryear except that now it it ranked and sorted by what the community that you choose feels is most relevant.
On FriendFeed the community can “like” or “comment” on stories that it’s members feed into it. The more a story is “liked” or commented on, the more it is bumped to the top of your screen. This helps ensure that the most popular (and frequently most interesting stories) are kept at the top of your “reader” most of the time. You still miss stuff like with your old RSS reader, but you miss less of the really good and really important stuff.
Now every now and again you still find a popular story that you don’t really care about. On FriendFeed especially a lot of stories that are of high value to a small community of early adopters and friends, might not seem so relevant to everyone else. People’s birthdays, crazy meme’s etc. often time rank high. But this is where the hide button shows its power on your new FriedFeed RSS reader. You find a story you don’t like and you simply hide it. If you find one sort of content that you routinely don’t like (like someone’s tweets about food) no problem. You can hide all that person’s tweets as well (but still get their blog posts).
Sometimes people will say to me as well, well, what if my favorite blogger, news site, etc. is not on FriendFeed already. Well first off, if they’re not on FriendFeed yet they are way behind the times, but even here if you really must watch a feed and it’s not already on FriendFeed, you simply add it as an “imaginary friend.”
How you categorize your feeds at FriendFeed is up to you. Like any RSS reader you can make lists. Photography, DVRs, Microsoft, Apple, A, B, C, faves, superfaves, etc. But in all of these cases, your network is constantly watching these lists and bumping the most popular stuff to the top of your lists.
The other nice thing about the best posts in your FriendFeed RSS reader is that they oftentimes come with tons of interesting comments from people besides the original author. If you want to see this post in FriendFeed for instance click through here and you will see what I’m talking about.
The bottom line is this. A socially filtered RSS reader is vastly superior to a non-socially filtered reader.
I’m not going to get into search much here, except to say that FriendFeed’s search capabilities are very, very strong. The guys behind FriendFeed are some of the early guys at Google. They just rolled out some new tools in fact last week to search FriendFeed even better than you could before. Social search is the future of search by the way and these guys at FriendFeed so far have hit it spot on. Personally I’m surprised that a small little start up like FriendFeed can pull off social search while a behemoth like Yahoo with amazing social properties cannot.
A lot of people still use a traditional RSS Reader *and* FriendFeed. In fact, I’d bet I’m one of the few that has actually abandoned their old reader entirely. What should FriendFeed do to help these folks make the transition? Easy. Build a tool that imports your OPML file (the file with all of your RSS feeds and organization in it) from your existing reader into a FriendFeed RSS list. FriendFeed could search their database to replace feeds that you’ve got in your OPML files with actual accounts on FriendFeed, and auto-populate imaginary friends for feeds that are not claimed by FriendFeed accounts yet.
Over time as imaginary friends come online at FriendFeed they ought to also build an option for users that lets them auto replace imaginary friends with real FriendFeed accounts.
I will say that since abandoning Google Reader that I feel that I’ve gotten a much better and more rich news feed experience from FriendFeed and that I’m really glad that I made the move. It does take a little getting used to and you definitely need to learn how to use the “hide” feature and “lists,” but it’s a vastly better way to keep up with your favorite bloggers and newsfeeds.
If you want to follow my own blog on FriendFeed, you can do that here.