Monday, 23 February 2009

RSS Feeds and readers

Having spent a week exploring RSS (after spending about a year wondering exactly what that little orange icon actually did), I have mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, I have found some great feeds that allow me to find and explore all sorts of new material; it's the kind of effortless 'keeping in touch' and 'keeping up to date' that I used to dream of. Yet, on the other, it's also like drowning; I now have a constant stream of information coming into my reader, and its ever expanding contents are beginning to make me feel as guilty as unanswered email in my inbox does. I simply don't have time to get through it all, and I find the huge quantities of 'stuff' overwhelming. I would prefer it if what comes in could be more easily organised, and perhaps processed a bit by personal settings on the way in. Anything that would keep Google Reader from looking like a disorganised information dump would be good, really!

I can see how this can really help with subject specific updates in relation to learning and teaching; it would be possible to recommend particularly good sites to students too, and encourage them on the way to the latest on their area. In some situations this could be research-related, and I'm sure that choosing which feeds to pursue and following them on through linked searches and so on could easily be integrated into some kind of explicit EBL environment.
I guess also that if it were set up properly it could be a great way of streaming information through to students; if you had a module or course webpage, this could be a way of ensuring it got to everyone. The downside, of course, would be the necessity for all students to have a regularly checked online identity outside the University system, and I can see all kinds of problems with that, as things are currently set up at least. The University itself, however, could (and probably does!) use RSS for all sorts of things, particularly in disseminating information to potential students, to staff and to the press.

In personal terms, this is another way to get alerts to things which are happening in special interest or hobby areas. The theory (that this means not having to look up sites but having the information brought to you) is fantastic, but again in practice I find the problem is the amount of stuff that comes through. Perhaps I'm supposed to function as my own personal filter, but this seems to me a time-consuming exercise. There is a danger that my Google Reader will cease to be terribly functional for me just because it's so busy to look at, and so full of items all clamouring for my attention. And that's in addition to all these new blogs... Perhaps it helps if you stop sleeping?


  1. I have the same worries about getting overwhelmed with information that -- frankly -- I don't really need. No doubt the solution is to be very, very disciplined: which may mean, in some cases, not signing up to things just for fun, or in others, rigidly demarcating what you are prepared to read when. As I've mentioned on my own blog, I have found it useful to sort my subscriptions into folders; and I've also started ruthlessly using the 'mark all as read' button to keep my reading under control. Life is too short for some things.

  2. With Google Reader you can organise your feed into categories/folders, which helps getting a grip on what's there. Also, you have to be quite ruthless in deciding whether something is worth reading or not. Don't forget, without RSS you probably wouldn't have come across it in the first place, so it's already an added bonus.

    I myself find it very hard to throw things away, and that funnily enough also applies to stuff I come across on RSS. But just like I try hard to achieve a 'zero inbox' I try to clear out my feeds ever so often, skimming though stuff and marking things as read if I either don't have time to read them or don't think they're that interesting/relevant/worth my time.