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Using Social Media Sites As "RSS Readers"

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Increasingly, social media web sites are becoming much more than places to keep in touch with friends, family and colleagues online. They’re becoming major hubs of information consumption, analysis and distribution as well, so it’s important to understand how this trend is playing out on some of the more popular destinations on the social web.

In fact, social media web sites such as Twitter, FriendFeed and  Facebook have the potential to take over many of the functions of RSS readers such as Google Reader, Newsgator and Bloglines.

twitter-logoAmidst all the hubbub of Ashton Kutcher and CNN and Oprah Winfrey and Save Chuck, Twitter has become a nifty and dynamic way to receive inbound alerts about news stories and information, giving the ability to turn your Twitter stream into an “RSS reader” of sorts.

There are a few different ways to use Twitter as an RSS reader. The first is to simply follow those users who broadcast links to stories and web sites that you find interesting and relevant (Robert Scoble, for example, when it comes to all things tech, Internet and geek). This is a means of crafting your own “smart people network” that sends the best stories and links to you. As David Drager at systemBash writes, “I find it awesome to be able to see what is going on, without having to manage ‘feeds.'”

The second way to use Twitter as an RSS reader is to literally send RSS feeds into your Twitter stream using a service like Twitterfeed. This works well for people who want to see a “firehose” of stories on their Twitter profile that can be browsed throughout the day. Twitterfeed also works in conjunction with microblogging services and Laconica, and status update services HelloTxt and

friendfeed_logo_48_2One of the best services for harnessing social media to create an inbound source for content and links from trusted sources is FriendFeed. If anything, the challenge with FriendFeed is to use the right set of folders and filters to best craft your personalized RSS reader-like experience.

For example, Justin Korn discusses the use of “imaginary friends” to set up customized RSS feeds for the topics that you’d like to keep track of. A somewhat simpler means of using FriendFeed as an RSS reader is to make use of filters. The default filters on FriendFeed are “Favorites”, “Personal”, and “Professional”, but you can customize them however you like. For example, you could set up a “Sports” filter for sources that link to a lot of sports-related stories that you’re likely to be interested in.

facebook-logo1Facebook is an interesting case study to look at as it’s one of the most popular social networking/social media web sites in the world, yet takes more of a “walled garden” approach as compared to Twitter and FriendFeed, as you can only interact with people who are your Facebook friends.

Can Facebook be used as an RSS reader? Well, sort of. ReadWriteWeb covered the shutting down of a Facebook app “that turned your newsfeed into an RSS feed” as it interfered with Facebook’s privacy policies. Marshall Kirkpatrick muses that the “wall that keeps Facebook user data in and private by default feels too contrary to the fundamental nature of the Internet for it to last.”

However, Facebook is still a useful place to pick up news and information from trusted sources (your friends and contacts) as each individual can pipe RSS feeds into their own newsfeed, so you can still use Facebook as a limited inbound RSS reader of sorts, via your Facebook friends.


A New Comm Biz piece asks, “Will RSS Ever Go Mainstream?” Perhaps in some ways it already is, and will continue to evolve through social media web sites like Twitter, FriendFeed and Facebook.

Do you use social media web sites as RSS readers?

17 Responses to “Using Social Media Sites As "RSS Readers"”

  1. Great comments all.

    Louis, I agree that MyYahoo and iGoogle are “more standard” for today’s “mainstream” user, but it’s interesting to note how those sites are being influenced by more “power user” or edge-centered sites.

    Personally, I use a combination of Google Reader, FriendFeed, Twitter, Techmeme, and other news sites to keep up, but freely admit that it’s rather time consuming and at times can be a bit overwhelming.

  2. Agreed. It is true that social sites will become feed readers. it is also true that Google Reader is for the power user and not the standard web user. What’s more of a standard web user experience is MyYahoo, iGoogle and Netvibes. The home page is where standard web users will consume their top ten feeds, and this is where you will see feed filtering and ranking improve our feed relevancy. Of course your Twitter and Facebook feeds can live there too, and God Forbid! Twitter becoming your home page is also possible. I don’t see any one company winning the Home Page race, but regardless of what home page standard surfers use in the future, RSS feeds will power them in an invisible and user friendly way. RSS is already being adopted in sufficient numbers, but it is about to be treated to some great efficiency upgrades that will propel it into full adoption. The more RSS becomes invisible, and the more we can personalize the content we want to receive the better for everyone. There will be no celebration when RSS becomes fully adopted, it is a silent revolution. I might raise a glass or a bottle of champagne, but don’t tell anyone.

  3. @anthonyc I think I agree that Google Reader will never go completely mainstream. I even have a hard time convincing fellow journalists to use it.

    For me it is an extremely valuable tool, but for most people it seems to be too complicated and ugly – not to mention the fact that it does not succeed in fully embracing the “social web” thinking.

    This being said, I’ll have to experiment a lot more with the social network sites before deciding to give up Google Reader – for now I think social networks cannot replace the regular feed readers, but they do enable conversations.

  4. KerrieAnne Christian

    agree with ascrivener
    “I doubt anything will be able to replace Google reader for me. I subscribe to about 100 rss feeds, and there is nothing out there that even comes close to it’s speed and ease of use.”

    I rss feed my Twitter Favs into Google Reader where I tag them and then share key posts with members of my COP’s

    I just wish I could tag favourites in Twitter

    but I like having it all in Google – can’t understand why more people don’t use it – so efficient to scan so much from one’s identified trusted and respected sites

  5. Great write up and thanks for the mention. There have been a lot of changes and developments in FriendFeed since I wrote the post linked above and think it might be time to revisit it. I agree with your article and disagree with a few of the comments above. Google Reader may not disappear soon, but if it doesn’t evolve (which it already has started to do) it will be extinct in the next 5 years.

  6. Unfortunately, pure RSS readers like Google Reader will never go completely mainstream I believe. It’s just not a practical product for the causal browser, which is the category that most fall into. Whereas as people who’s livelihood depends upon them having the newest published info on the web absolutely cant get by without aggregated content.

    That being said, there’s something about you dictating the information sources vs them being dispensed to you via twitter, friendfeed, etc.

    Rarely does a piece of information come to me via twitter/friendfeed, that I haven’t already seen in one my feeds.

  7. Interesting article. Feedly ( tries to bring the concept of RSS and social filtering together by tighly integrating with Google Reader, Twitter and Friendfeed while letting the user control how the information in filtered and displayed. Have you had the chance to try feedly? Pros? Cons?

  8. I doubt anything will be able to replace Google reader for me. I subscribe to about 100 rss feeds, and there is nothing out there that even comes close to it’s speed and ease of use. Imagine trying to read 800 posts on facebook. Dear god. I tried the twitter app in facebook, and it is a disaster! It works perfectly, but what ends up happening it that you swamp your friends with useless twits that clog up their homepages, and then they just hide you. You are absolutely right about ff, it does exactly what you describe, and it does it extremely well. What I didn’t understand until I started using ff however, is that all of a sudden you become not just some iconic contact with a feed, but you become a service. I do my normal crunch through the rss feeds, sharing what I think is interesting, and then publish my take on the worthiness of content found within my subscriptions. My filtered content is way more valuable than those 100 news feeds put together.