Dave Winer, who Time Magazine describes as having "Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS", hits the nail on the head with this post on what's wrong with today's RSS readers like Bloglines or Google Reader (the two I use currently):
"Most RSS readers remind the user, all the time, how wrong he or she is. Or inadequate or lazy or behind in their work."
And as Michael Arrington (TechCrunch) shows in a recent post, this is reflected a bit in the sideways charts of the traffic at popular news readers.
Bloglines, which I've used for years, but less and less as of late, reminds me every time I log in how ridiculously behind I am in reading my hundreds of subscriptions.
And then when I get goaded into getting organized and caught up, everything I click on takes ages to open and shut.
Google Reader, which I've migrated to of late, is a bit better in that it doesn't give you messages like "927 feeds Unread (you lazy, good-for-nothing, ignoramus)". And it also has latency issues in terms of opening and closing branches of items to be read and consumed.
However, it does have some potentially user-friendly new features like it's "Feed Bundles", which allow you to subscribe to clusters of popular sites around topics like "Science", "News" etc.
But then the interface still reminds me of my cluttered closet every time I launch the reader. There's tons of stuff in there I probably need, IF I made the time to go through it all, organize it, and KEEP IT organized going forward.
As Amit Agarwal intimates correctly in the title of his post on the subject, RSS readers today cause nothing but stress in users' online lives. (Beth Kanter also has a post RSS stress as well).
- "Create Additional Levels of Hierarchy
- Create an A-list Folder containing Favorite Feeds
- Search by Keywords and Delete
- Forget Alphabetic sorting, number the feeds"
I shouldn't have to do all that. My software should self-organize automatically around me. (And as my wife often reminds me, my closet certainly isn't going to automatically self-organize around me any time soon).
"9/20/05: "Let the news flow by you and relax like someone sitting on the bank of a river looking for something interesting as you while away the time. That's how news works, and RSS is, emphatically, for news."
Instead, most of today's feed readers offer the opposite experience, as aptly described by Dave:
"Imagine you're fishing, and there was some nerd on the other side of the river, shouting at you, the number of fish that went by that you didn't catch. How long before you'd want to kill the nerd??"
And that's where we seem to be at with News Readers. Designed by nerds, mostly for nerds, who are generally obsessed with all things online, to be gotten online.
It's all the more important to address this, because while RSS readers primarily drive rivers of text to their subscribers today, very soon they'll be driving video to them tomorrow.
As Mark Cuban aptly suggests in a post yesterday, it's not going to be long before mainstream cable and media offer subscription streams for every imaginable type of video content, coming into your DVR and/or home server.
And it's not just subscription services to PC or even TVs anymore. Let's not forget SMS subscriptions on your cell phones (or mobiles as they're known overseas).
It's time we re-thought feeds readers of all types for mainstream folks, and really reduce the stress in their online lives.