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More Efficient RSS Reading

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In my recent post about using Harvest to track my time, I discovered that I was spending too much of my time consuming information. As a result, I’ve been working on ways to further increase my efficiency, starting with some Twitter efficiency improvements, and I thought that a post about becoming more efficient at consuming blogs and other news content via RSS would be a good next step.

I love information and wish I could spend more time reading and consuming it, to learn more about a variety of topics. However, the harsh reality is that there are only so many hours in the day that I can spend reading and learning. I could take the easy way out and just read less, but my goal is to become more efficient at finding the content that I want to read the most.

Pruning your feeds is a good way to start. Fellow WWD blogger Celine Roque wrote a great article about how to fine-tune your RSS subscriptions a few months ago. Dead feeds and feeds that you rarely read only slow down the process of finding the content that you really need. I have a tendency to add blogs to my reader based on one or two great posts, but sometimes those blogs just don’t keep my interest and must be pruned later. I try to go through my RSS reader a few times a year and focus on getting rid of, or de-prioritizing, feeds that add less value or aren’t being regularly updated any more. Some feed readers even have tools for finding those old blogs that aren’t being updated regularly (dinosaurs) and the blogs that currently get the least amount of your attention.

Rarely Read Feed Report in NetNewsWire

I also make extensive use of filtering to reduce the amount of content in my feeds. Yahoo (s yhoo) Pipes is a great filtering tool, since you can use it to combine many RSS feeds and only display posts that match certain key words that are the most interesting to you. I use Yahoo Pipes to filter groups of blogs that typically have low relevancy for me but have occasional great nuggets of information that I don’t want to miss.  With Pipes, I can make sure that I only see the nuggets, and not the posts that contain less interesting topics.

Use an RSS reader that gives you a way to organize your feeds and use it as a way to prioritize the things that you should read more often. I use NetNewsWire, which gives me the ability to create folders and move them up or down the list. The things that I need to read every day are at the top, while the blogs that I read only occasionally are near the bottom.

When working with clients who don’t already use a reader, I usually set them up with Netvibes, which has more of a dashboard feel. In this case, I organize their feeds with the top priorities in the upper left, lower priorities in the lower right and multiple tabs to group topics. It doesn’t really matter how you organize the information as long as it helps you prioritize your reading.

Take the time to learn the keyboard shortcuts for your feed reader. I can get through the material more quickly when I use a few keys to navigate through the content. In my case, NetNewsWire lets you use arrow keys, the space bar and other keys to navigate through the content, mark items as read/unread, open in a browser, collapse/expand folders, and more. Navigating the menu items to find these functions can sometimes take more time than you realize.

It also helps me to think of feeds as a stream that flows through my RSS reader. I don’t try to catch up by reading everything, and I don’t worry about leaving unread items in my reader. I read what I can with the time I have available and don’t spend any time worrying about the rest. There will always be more interesting content than I can ever read in a lifetime.

What are your tips for getting through your RSS feeds more quickly and efficiently?

34 Responses to “More Efficient RSS Reading”

  1. Richard Williams

    I use biterscripting (biterscripting) for parsing/pruning RSS. It is easy to use and several sample scripts are provided to get one started.

    You can easilty find lots of examples of biterscripting scripts on the web that show how to parse/prune RSS feeds.


  2. Great post. I am constantly finding myself behind in my feeds and trying to figure out ways to make catching up (and keeping up) easier. I use a freeware app called Shrook (I just wrote a post about it yesterday, oddly enough) and I try to group my feeds together by priority. I’ve got my “Essentials” that I feel like I absolutely MUST read very often, I’ve got my “Friends” (some of whom are essentials, too) that I subscribe to but don’t feel too much of an obligation to keep up with day to day, and then I’ve got the other ones that exist for me to skim the post headlines to see if anything is interesting. If so, I read the post or flag it, and then take advantage of “mark all is read.” I’m getting better at it, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one constantly trying to win this battle of interesting information flying at me all the time.

  3. I went through all of these ways of speeding up my rss consumption a year or so back. What I found out is that feed readers are so focused on the feed and that becomes the only way you can organize. So i built my own as a toy that focuses on the post as the organizational focus. You can read about it via the link on my name. I also started releasing some tools and code of what i’ve been building.

  4. I separate feeds into “mindspaces.” Some blog feeds that I have are mostly literary- I read them because they are more like essays than news. I find that having feeds grouped by category is frustrating because there may be two feeds that are in the same subject category (e.g. “programming”), but which fill a different mindspace (e.g. quick note about a technical algorithm vs. discussion about computers and society). Within a given mindspace, there may be various unrelated blogs. It might seem weird grouping blogs about programming and cooking and pets together, but separating by mindspace allows me to say “I’m in a place where I can contemplate random facets of humanity” vs. “I’m in a place where I want rapid influx of information.”

  5. Reading by priority is key. I do this in Google Reader with priority based tags (that post is a couple years old but my system is essentially the same).

    I also use PostRank (and their Google Reader Greasemonkey script) to filter out the quality material from some high-volume firehoses such as Digg, Delicious, search feeds for topics of interest, etc. By letting those accumulate and then going back and only reading the “Great” or “Best” posts as ranked by PostRank, I see anything important without having to wade through the routine.