If you asked web workers what protocols we couldn’t do without, RSS would be right up there with HTTP and SMTP. Having the information that we want to see come to us, instead of having to go out on the web and hunt it down, is a big win. We may argue over which RSS reader to use, but most of us couldn’t imagine going back to a life without one.
But even though there are already plenty of feed readers out there, innovation in the field hasn’t stopped. New entrant Feed Each Other has come up with what they hope will be a winning strategy to entice you to try their online reader: they’ve mixed it in with a social network. Just out of a private beta period, it combines a fairly standard set of reading and tagging features with sharing, networking, and discovery to (they hope) enhance the RSS experience.
The basic idea behind Feed Each Other is pretty simple: if you get together with your friends, you might find cool stuff that you otherwise miss on the web. You start (as with any other online reader) by signing up and subscribing to a few feeds of your own. I chose to import a fairly large OPML file, which worked flawlessly. You can read feeds one at a time, combined into a single river of news, or view new content only, with keyboard shortcuts to buzz through the news you’re reading (though if you have a large number of feeds, I suspect you’ll still find the minimal UI of Google reader to be more efficient).
But layered on top of this reading experience you’ll find the social features. For starters, with a single mouse click or keypress you can share any item out of a feed you’re reading. You can add your own comment to shared items, and everyone’s shared items show up on the site’s home page. You can also become a fan of someone whose taste you like, and their shared items show up on your dashboard for extra attention.
Feed Each Other also watches for similarities between feeds and items. When I look at my feed for Rails Envy, for example, it tells me that people who subscribe to Rails Envy also subscribe to a whole raft of other feeds; a single click will take me to any of those other feeds to explore and possibly subscribe. I can also see related tags, and find other items that might interest me that way. This is the start of a way to automatically leverage the reading habits of the entire group to help me find stuff that I might be interested in.
What’s missing here? Potentially, Feed Each Other has (assuming they get enough users) plenty of data to make much more sophisticated recommendations than just “people who read feed X also read feed Y”. It should be possible to look at the overall similarity between entire feed lists to spot the feeds I’m most likely to want to read. For example, the OPML I uploaded is heavily salted with Rails and Second Life feeds; if someone else has a similar list, but with just a few feeds I’m missing, it would be a good bet that they’d interest me. Still, even without this, being able to bounce around through all the connections between items, feeds, tags, and similarities is already dangerously addictive.