Feeds: Dead to You or Still Kicking?

November 3rd, 2009 17 Comments

Twitter vs. FeedsThere’s been a fair amount of debate among the early adopter crowd lately about the place of syndicated content in relation to Twitter.

The debate has been renewed in light of the general release of Twitter lists, which allow people to create and follow bunches of Twitter users en masse.

Since many people use Twitter to share links to interesting information, Twitter has always been a great source for news and information, essentially crowdsourcing your intertubes reading, much like a feed reader, only with a lot more discovery.

Lists make it even easier to discover interesting content using tweeters as a proxy.

Anyway, two posts recently caught my eye, one by Robert Scoble (@Scobleizer) called “Why I don’t use Google Reader anymore“, the other by Louis Gray (@louisgray) called “Why I Wouldn’t Accept $25k To Stop Using Google Reader“.

There are a couple points munged together in these posts that are worth discussing, as much as anything here is worth discussing.

1) Twitter vs. feeds for information

2) Google Reader’s product direction

I’ll touch on both, even though they’re not obviously related.

Which is better for information, Twitter or feeds?
The short answer here is they’re equally useful, and better together, a conclusion shared by many when asked the question by Dawn Foster (@geekygirldawn) over at WWD. You’ll notice about as many said Twitter had replaced feeds too, so maybe I’m just pumping up my own side.

Part of the problem here is that feeds have never really taken off, and Twitter provides a much less geeky way to get information. Personally, I prefer taking feeds from Twitter and adding them to my existing feeds in Reader, and services like ReadTwit have helped scrape the links out of my tweet stream, essentially beefing up my Reader.

Interestingly, I’m not seeing feeds surfaced for lists, which would really help me. I wonder if this is strategic.

Anyway, guys like Robert and Louis consume factors of ten more information than we mere mortals do, so I can see why they have a preference.

I’m dodging the question though. If I had to choose one or the other method today for information consumption, I’d go with Twitter. Why? Because of the network.

The network has always been Twitter’s ace in the hole. Remember back in bad old days of early 2008 when Twitter’s uptime teetered below 99%, which is pretty sad for a web service, even a free one? There were movements afoot to jump to Plurk and Identi.ca and Jaiku and Pownce.

Heard those names lately? They never took off because Twitter had the network and recreating that was too high a barrier to entry for pretty much everyone. So, we all suffered and hoped for the best.

To Twitter’s credit, they have dramatically improved the uptime of the service.

Even though I really like feeds and continue to believe they are the best kept secret in tech, using Twitter for information is way easier. Cue the segue.

Where is Google Reader going?
Google Reader has been my feed reader of choice for years, and I’ve got a lot invested in it.

It’s funny to read Robert’s and Louis’ posts because they both hint at a problem I have with Reader, new features. Reader has been slowly socializing for a while now, but the most recent additions have me wondering.

I haven’t found much value in the social features, beyond Shared Items, and I have to agree with Robert’s assessment that Reader has become a bit slow due to the new stuff. One huge head-scratcher for me is why there isn’t a public API for Reader data; why build “likes” before that?

Anyway, Reader has deviated from what it does best–fast feed reading with great search. The easy assumption here is that Twitter and Facebook have pushed the Reader team to add social features, but at what cost?

Maybe it’s just me, but I want a feed reader to be a feed reader because I already have a Twitter client for the social stuff. So why not add feed reading features like a proxy setting for feeds inside the firewall or open source the code so it can be installed inside a firewall, since feeds are still the best way to follow information within the firewall.

Or maybe if the strategy is to go social, why not build a Brizzly-esque interface right into Reader? Maybe that could be part of the search deal Google just did with Twitter.

So, two areas of interest here: Twitter vs. feeds for information and why and what’s up with Reader and where should it go?

A bit disjointed, but these two are wrapped up together for me and others.

Find the comments.

Update: The widget actually works inside the firewall, but it takes a while to load.


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17 Responses to “Feeds: Dead to You or Still Kicking?”

  1. lmau Says:

    I like this post (that came to me… in google Reader).
    I've the same dilemna today beween RSS/GR and Twitter (especially with twitter lists).

    These days, I start to follow twitter lists via RSS (as I do for few VIP), for this, I use http://twiterlist2rss.appspot.com/

  2. Dave Goldstick Says:

    Really nice analysis! I've been watching this topic with interest and see value in balance. I believe Google Reader enables me to be very thorough in researching granular topics. Whereas with Twitter and its lists, I can more easily find serendipity in broader categories.

    Great idea in regards to the ability to utilize Google Reader inside the firewall! Does Google currently provide RSS reader capability within its Apps platform? I don't think so…

    I, too, would love to have lists available as RSS feeds but I'm assuming that this doesn't fit Twitter's business model. But perhaps this is part of the impetus for Google to license the technology or buy Twitter outright. That's a key part of where I'd like to see Google Reader head in the future. If that makes sense…

  3. Jake Says:

    Nice, Eddie Awad also put me on to that RSS creator for lists, but I worry about the limit problems. My guess is there will soon be a slew of RSS creators for lists. It's baffling that Twitter would omit feeds, so I have to think it's strategic in some way.

    Anyway, once I get feeds for Twitter lists, I'll be adding them to Reader. I can't imagine going w/o Reader, so I guess I'm in the same boat as Louis.

  4. Jake Says:

    Agreed: Twitter is great at discovery, Reader is great at research. The latter is probably due to the fact you tell it what you want to read, which isn't terribly conducive to discovery. Lists do close the distance between the two.

    Google doesn't have any version of Reader other than reader.google.com, which is a huge bummer. Adding it to apps would make a lot of sense, but wouldn't benefit me at all :)

    Eddie and lmau (above) pointed out http://twiterlist2rss.appspot.com/ for generating RSS for lists, but I tend to agree there has to be a reason Twitter skipped feeds for lists.

    And FWIW, I'd totally dig a Reader+Twitter client. That would be information nirvana. I wonder about Reader and its future though, which seems to be dimming as Twitter gains momentum in Reader's wheelhouse.

  5. oraclenerd Says:

    man, the stuff you get to think about…

    i had never thought of either in such a way (reader–> research, twitter –> discovery/serendipity), but it sounds about right. is it weird that I put some of the more active tweeters in GR? i don't care for all that noise…I'm good at tuning out/skimming the voluminous tweeters, but i do have my limits.

    i too like the shared items in GR and i do use them…you are far and away the biggest user of that feature though. if i miss a week, i have to go through like 60 or 70 of your shared items.

    I do like the “Explorer” option though…recommendations based on what you read or some other algorithm.

    readers do seem to be too techy…i don't know many people, in real life that is, who use them. i find them strange…perhaps it's the other way around?

  6. Bob Rhubart Says:

    I've been using Feedly, which adds a layer of organization on top of Google Reader, and includes many handy social networking features. I wouldn't want to go back to using Google Reader by itself.

    As to the central question: I use feeds and Twitter. I like the organic filtering that Tweeters provide went posting links to articles, but I also like the unfiltered firehouse that feeds supply.

    But there's another aspect to this issue: I can't possible absorb all the information in the various pipes I've constructed.

    I've had Internet access of some sort since 1988, and I've always loved the idea of virtually unlimited access to all manner of information. But after reading Nicholas Carr's “Is Google Making Us Stupid” in the Atlantic last year, I had to finally admit that there is an inverse correlation between the amount of information I had coming in and the amount I could actually consume. Google wasn't making me stupid, but I couldn't help but think that years of trying to drink from the firehouse wasn't really making me any smarter.

    So I made a conscious decision to be far more selective in my information sources, including feeds and the people I connect with on Twitter and other social networks.But that's also part of an overarching belief that social networking/media is about genuine, person-to-person, one-to-one connection, rather than one-to-many — or many-to-one.

  7. Jake Says:

    It's not a privilege really. I used to think about this stuff anyway, even when my job was to design EBS features. I've always been a geek.

    I don't think it's weird to add tweeters to Reader; it's a good way to keep up with specific people, which is why I want feeds for lists.

    I guess I use the share feature a lot, but then again, I read a lot. It's not all interesting.

    The most recent bunch of Reader features left me cold, especially Magic, which makes no sense to me and seems like a waste of effort. I guess I didn't spend enough time on it.

    I don't know what it is about readers, but I guarantee if Facebook added a reader, people would use it. That may be their way to becoming an intertubes unto themselves, i.e. by importing content.

  8. Jake Says:

    Interesting comments. I've seen Feedly, but it didn't stick for me. If I remember correctly, it wanted too much effort from me, and I couldn't see a huge value in the results (just like the Semantic Web). Probably need to revisit it.

    I tend to agree with Carr's point, at least as it applies to me, but like many things, training is key. I've trained myself to drink from the firehose, and I can likewise train myself to read cognitively. Just like physical exercise, it takes time to return to form, but it can be done. Since I've done both types of information consumption, I know what to expect and the rewards of each.

    It's much riskier for young people who have grown up with only the firehose method though b/c they tend to find deep thinking very difficult, not having a lot of experience with it. Again, think about physical exercise or sports; if it's tough and new to you, you might quit.

    I like your approach to add consciously only the people you know IRL. That's a good rule of thumb for keeping your information hose manageable.

  9. Jeff Waterman Says:

    Jake, you hit the proverbial ball out of the park when you stated, “…I want a feed reader to be a feed reader because I already have a Twitter client for the social stuff.”

  10. Jake Says:

    Thanks, exactly how I feel about the slow, social features that the Reader team keeps adding. Maybe they'll listen to Scoble again.

  11. Bob Rhubart Says:

    I did mean to imply that I only follow people I know IRL. As a general rule I do indeed follow the updates of people that I've actually met f2f, but I don't limit online connections to that group. Rather, I try to treat those online relationships as real, two-way connections, rather than look at the list of people following me as an anonymous audience, as nothing more than a number.

    But that's another issue, ain't it?

  12. brhubart Says:

    That should be “I didn't mean to imply…”

    This is what happens when I multitask…

  13. Jake Says:

    I got what you meant. The IRL stuff strengthens (or weakens I suppose) the connections, and it's a group not an audience. Makes perfect sense. I think it's a good rule of thumb, and I've actually seen a few Twitter lists for people the user knows. Solid.

  14. bex Says:

    replacing Feeds with Twitter only makes sense if you follow people who use a blog vomit Twitter agenda… meaning everything they post they also tweet. If I find somebody I like, I follow their feeds… or perhaps their Del.icio.us bookmarks. Following their Tweets becomes redundant.

    Personally, I prefer reading coherent, full posts to wading through the stream of consciousness rant that is the Twiscape… Also, cramming URLS into 10 characters kind of breaks the web, because you no longer have that rich information in the domain name and URL to get some kind of context for where the link is going.

  15. Jake Says:

    We vomit blog posts :) I tend to agree that generally, a Twitter account that only broadcasts posts is redundant for me. However, in our case, we polled to see what people wanted from the Twitter account, and as this post suggests, a lot of people use Twitter to follow blogs over feed readers.

    I don't agree that following certain people's tweets (and their blog posts) is always redundant. It tends to humanize the blogger in many cases. Maybe you have to find the right person.

    The solution I've found to short URL madness is Brizzly. See my post on it if you want an invite, not that you care, just saying :)

  16. bex Says:

    replacing Feeds with Twitter only makes sense if you follow people who use a blog vomit Twitter agenda… meaning everything they post they also tweet. If I find somebody I like, I follow their feeds… or perhaps their Del.icio.us bookmarks. Following their Tweets becomes redundant.

    Personally, I prefer reading coherent, full posts to wading through the stream of consciousness rant that is the Twiscape… Also, cramming URLS into 10 characters kind of breaks the web, because you no longer have that rich information in the domain name and URL to get some kind of context for where the link is going.

  17. Jake Says:

    We vomit blog posts :) I tend to agree that generally, a Twitter account that only broadcasts posts is redundant for me. However, in our case, we polled to see what people wanted from the Twitter account, and as this post suggests, a lot of people use Twitter to follow blogs over feed readers.

    I don't agree that following certain people's tweets (and their blog posts) is always redundant. It tends to humanize the blogger in many cases. Maybe you have to find the right person.

    The solution I've found to short URL madness is Brizzly. See my post on it if you want an invite, not that you care, just saying :)

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