Blog Post

Fine-tune Your RSS Subscriptions

970189_rss_icon_1According to a survey in 2005, only 12% of internet users know what RSS feeds are. Despite these low numbers, most of the netizens I know seem to be active subscribers.

While RSS feeds give us the latest news, blog posts, and site updates through a single interface, it’s not farfetched to think that they can also be a major time suck.  If you notice that this is happening, that you’re spending more time on your feed reader than you want to, then perhaps it’s time to quit your feed reader altogether.

Or you know, you can just fine-tune your subscription list

Do a review.
Whether it’s every month or every quarter, you should review your feed subscriptions regularly.  Without a review, it’s easy to overlook “dead” blogs and sites that are no longer relevant to you.  If you don’t review your subscriptions once in a while, the best time to start is now.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to put it in your calendar or anything – just do it when you feel like it’s time.

What value does each feed give? When doing your review, it’s important to evaluate what makes each feed valuable.  Does it give you a daily dose of how to further your career?  Were you given ideas that allowed you to lessen your home expenses?  Does it make you laugh?

Also consider how frequent you get something valuable from a subscription.  Is every update valuable?  Is it valuable at least once a week?  Is it valuable every few months?  For some subscriptions, you might be saying to yourself “Well, it hasn’t been valuable yet…but it might be later on.”

For cases like these, I refer to an ancient Sumerian saying goes “Get it only when you need it.” Okay, maybe I made that one up, but it’s a rule that applies to kitchenware, packing, and yes, even RSS feeds.  If your reason for buying fondue forks is “You’ll never know when we’ll have a fondue party”, then odds are these forks will gather dust for several months until you need to use them – if ever that actually happens.

The same goes for RSS feeds.  “You’ll never know when they’ll post something I can use…” is a very flimsy reason for subscribing to something – and I know this from experience.  If there’s particular information you need, then that’s the time you go out and look for it, rather than hoarding useless feeds in the hopes that something useful might come up.

Remove blogs that seem to parrot each other. I used to subscribe to over 10 interior design and architecture blogs – until I realized that they just crossed-link to each other and posted the same pictures anyway.  Remember that in these cases, the Unsubscribe button is your friend.

For blogs with frequent updates within the day, subscribe to the weekly or monthly feed instead.  There are many blogs which post several times each day.  Included in that group is one of my all-time favorites, Lifehacker.  Listen, I love Lifehacker.  I believe it’s an invaluable resource to me. But if I subscribed to their regular feed, which has 8 to 12 new items on most days, that’s a lot of time taken away from my work, especially if I love a post and feel the need to file it somewhere.

The good news is that they offer a variety of feed options.  They offer a feed for top stories only, a monthly feed (which I subscribe to), and several tag-specific feeds as well.  If some of your favorite blogs have these options, take advantage of them.

I wish some of my other favorite blogs would have tag-specific feeds as well.  While there are many bloggers whose work I love reading regularly, I really don’t want to know what’s going on in their love life and what they had for dinner.  Other blogs, especially those which offer real-time news, should also consider these multiple feed options if they don’t want readers to get turned off by the massive amount of content they publish, no matter how great the content is.

I know that having a feed reader has made my online reading life much simpler, since I can go through my favorite blogs in one go.  But without the occasional review, I know I’ll be committing an extra couple of hours each day just going through new items that don’t give me anything back for the 10 minutes I spent reading them.

How many feed subscriptions do you have?  Do you review them once in a while to delete the ones you don’t really need or want?

Image by Svilen Mushkatov from

21 Responses to “Fine-tune Your RSS Subscriptions”

  1. ecairn

    We do manage a few 1000s of subscriptions in our own reader.

    We automatically compute “influence ranking” within our subscription list and have filtering capability so that on a daily basis:

    – we read everything that comes from the top influencers
    – we do highly efficient search filtering (search engine embedded) on conversation from the rest of the feeds.


  2. One of the neatest features of Google Reader is the Trends page. This will give you a host of statistics about your feed reading, and will allow you to sift and winnow your feeds based on your actual reading patterns.

    There is a link on the Reader page that will take you directly to the Trends page and it is possible to delete feeds simply from that page.

  3. Some nice advice here. I do make a point every so often to clear out feeds that I no longer find useful. I also find that some sites have changed, so the type of articles and the quality has changed to the point where they are no longer relevant to my interests.

  4. @instapogrum
    Just to clarify, I didn’t say “remove seldom updated blogs”. My point was to remove blogs that rarely have updates that are valuable to you. A blog can update 10 times a day, but if you only get value out of one post a week, then that’s not really a good ratio, since you’re bound to spend a lot of time “separating the wheat from the chaff”.

    I actually love blogs that are seldom updated BUT each update they post is of tremendous value.

  5. instapogrum

    Why is it essential to remove seldom updated blogs? If they were interesting once, they can come back or still be useful, and one of the beauties of syndication is that it costs nothing to let a quiet feed sit to see if it comes back to life. If they make the list too long, make a folder for stuff that doesn’t update often.

  6. Current count is 254 feeds. I can easily spend two hours a day reading all the latest entries. Definitely a sign to cut the list down.

    Trouble is, some of the feeds do provide truly useful information. It will be hard to choose which ones to eliminate. Something to do before year end, for sure.

  7. I have around 250 feeds, and the sad fact is that I spent some time over the holidays pruning.

    Like Nathan, I tend to use tools like Yahoo Pipes and PostRank to create a few aggregated feeds that are filtered to show only the posts that are important to me in some way. Those feeds are the ones I read first.

    I also like to use a reader, like NetNewsWire where I can organize my feeds into various groups with the important groups at the top and less important ones near the bottom. I make sure that I read certain groups several times a day while other groups I only read when I have extra time.

  8. I feel you on that, I only subscribe to lifehacker articles containing MAC OS X or iPhone. is another one that has way too many posts on a daily basis. I guess it’s cool that sites have a bunch of content, but sometimes they’re even doubling up on their own posts, like the authors don’t crosscheck who’s writing about what. I hate having to give up an entire source because they don’t provide alternate options.

    Yahoo Pipes is a great way to slim down feeds from sites that don’t give you a way to do that on their own.