To RSS or not to RSS?

I just read “Why keeping up with RSS is poisonous to productivity, sanity” (posted by a friend on, yes, Google Reader). You don’t need to bother; it’s yet another “I took an internet break and realized that the internet is eating my life” essay.

But she quotes data (which may not be valid; I didn’t look into it) that says “only six percent of North American, Internet-using consumers use an RSS feed once per week or more.” Google apparently agrees; as much as my friends and I love it, Reader seems to be an ignored minor colony of the vast Google empire.

This fits with conventional blogger wisdom, which says that you need to post as often as possible and on as regular a schedule as possible, or people will ignore you. In other words, people are individually checking your blog rather than only looking when their RSS reader says you’ve posted something new.

To me this seems hilariously outdated. Eleven years ago, when I was in college, my friends already all had “web journals,” and we got tired of clicking through the list every couple of days to see who had written something new. So one friend wrote a handy early RSS reader. Now that everyone has a blog, wouldn’t this be an even bigger problem? Has everyone really managed to pick 3 or 4 sites that aggregate everything they could possibly want to know on the internet?

I have not. Not even close. In Reader I have 40 Must Read subscriptions and 35 Must Skim. Many are friends’ blogs who post rarely. Most of the rest are kidlit blogs, each of which are writing about different books. It is part of my job to have at least passing familiarity with as many YA novels as possible, and that would be harder without RSS gathering up all these reviews for me.

That said, when I look at my feeds, I am much more likely to click on the ones that have 1 or 2 new posts than the ones that have 35. With a small investment of time, I can check that blog off and shorten my feed list. It’s quite satisfying, if you are the sort of person who likes checking things off lists! This supports the way I post (sporadically) and flies in the face of that conventional blogger wisdom.

So I’m curious about my readership. Do you use an RSS reader? If so, do you clean out your whole list every day? Do you just click on a few blogs? How do you choose? Or do you think every so often, “Huh, I wonder if Parenthetical has posted anything new lately?” and go check? (Or are you reading this because you’re friends with me on Facebook and saw it there?)

I can’t say this is going to change how I post, because frankly if having a gazillion readers were that high a priority for me I’d be doing a lot of things differently (like not having any other hobbies?). But I’m terribly curious!

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9 Responses to To RSS or not to RSS?

  1. Pingback: Hello from the cave

  2. Miss K says:

    Google Reader has made reading all the blogs I enjoy more manageable. Yes, I check it several times a day, but it’s so much faster than clicking around to everywhere I like.
    It’s interesting that you say that about disliking when people post too much. Usually I post every 5 days, but was thinking of posting a new review every day for a month in January, to celebrate 2 years blogging. Now I wonder…will that be annoying? Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  3. Christi says:

    Huh, I am all about Google Reader. I rarely click through to the actual blogs anymore. I can’t imagine another way of following blogs. I didn’t realize I was in such a minority. Thanks for posting this!

  4. Jeff says:

    I absolutely use RSS all the time; it’s a technology I can’t imagine living without. I go through the whole list daily, though not all at once — it’s a good way to kill a minute or two while waiting for something to compile.

    (I know a lot of people who use a reader and don’t know it, in that one’s LJ friends page is an RSS reader. They just think of it as “following my friends’ LJs” and “subscribing to syndicated things on LJ”.)

  5. jaime says:

    I use netvibes, an rss site.

  6. Greg says:

    I use Google Reader. I’m surprised to learn that I’m subscribed to over 50 feeds, but
    a) most of those have nothing for weeks on end, b) only one or two tend to have more than one or two posts in a give day, and c) those ones that have a lot of posts tend to be the kinds of sites that just send you a bunch of weird stuff (like Mental Floss), so it’s easy to do a quick run through to see if anything interests me (answer: maybe one or two things a day). So I do run through the whole thing every day (and, sigh, sometimes multiple times a day). What I do find is that I have multiple passes: one for the “let’s get through it” and then anything that I think will require some actual thought I save either for the end or for later when I have more time. Anything that gets tons of stuff that’s deep I tend to unsubscribe from – who has the time? Which means that most of the stuff I do look at is a) crap that I would be just as well not looking at or b) posts from friends (which I cherish of course). I do subscribe to a few work-related things, but I usually dread having to look at those – if I’m looking at Google Reader, I’m trying to avoid work, not invent more.

    Another interesting question Max, Eric, and I once discussed: in what order do you read your RSS feeds? (I almost always save xkcd for last – it’s dessert).

  7. Phoebe says:

    I use a feed reader, and am subscribed to (*quickly checks*) 381 blogs. And I clear it out daily, though they’re in folders, so sometimes I just mark everything in my “puppies, kitties, crafts, and other assorted crap” as read and skip it.

    I can’t, for the life of me, convince my husband to use a reader, and it drives me nuts. He manually goes to “his” sites every single day. Ah well.

    I used to use LJ, but that’s almost dead–I DO keep stumbling across SF writers who use it exclusively and it’s always a bit of a shock. Scalzi advocates hosting your own stuff, and I agree–much more user-friendly and safe if the service shuts down.

    As for the site-owner end of things, I have 133 people following me on google reader–but I get far more hits from twitter. Go figger.

  8. Lucy Hadden says:

    Definitely use RSS feed — Google Reader. I started by seeing your posts on LJ, but I’m at least as likely to see Reader (and it’s easier for me to share links with, among other things, the potential consumer of YA fiction in my household).

    I used to try to clean out my feed daily; at this point, I’ve given up.

  9. Jo Jaquinta says:

    I’m definitely in the feed reader camp. For personal use I use My Yahoo to categorize them onto pages, and then arrange them vertically on the page. Sort of a two-axis priority system; I look at the first page several times a day (news), the second page a few times a day (personal blogs), the third once a day (comics), etc.
    I also use LiveJournal, which is sort of a specialized feed reader. I usually check that once a day.
    Professionally I use Lotus Connections. With 400,000 employees, and being very into social computing, IBM has a lot of internal blogs, and our own blogging software. There I contribute more than I consume, so I mostly focus on the “My Blogs” page.
    It just seems bizarre that people don’t use feed readers. Yet, I find it more bizarre that people don’t use ad blockers either. Go figure!

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