On life without an RSS aggregator

NewsGator is an excellent RSS news aggregator. I came across it while it was still in beta, and I loved it as soon as I started using it. It acts as an extension to Microsoft Outlook. When it grabs the RSS feeds of your favourite web sites, it converts individual postings into Outlook email items, and files them in a folder of your choice. The net effect is exactly as if new postings from your favourite weblogs are being delivered to you by email. It is supremely nifty.

But I’m not using it any more.

It’s not because of the price. At $29, it is a very reasonably priced product, that is very good at what it does. If you use Outlook as your email client, you should definitely download it and make use of the 14-day free trial period. You’ll like it. Even if you don’t use Outlook, it might even be enough to make you switch. (I had been using Mozilla mail until January, and NewsGator was good enough to make me suffer through the hell of converting my email from Mozilla to Outlook so I could use it. Now that’s impressive.)

No, the reason I’ve stopped using RSS aggregators at all (at least for now), is that my blogging habits were getting out of hand. By the time I left for Boston last week, I had about 50 RSS feeds I was tracking. They ranged from low-volume (Joel Spolsky only posts a new article every other week or so) to the high (Scripting News and Boing Boing Blog both deliver a dozen or so new postings every day), with everything inbetween. And I was spending about two hours an evening reading them all.

What was taking so long was not the reading of the posts themselves, but following the links therein, tracking down associated material, maybe posting a comment or two, and wondering if I should re-broadcast any of the material here on my own blog.

So why was I doing this? Well, one of the reasons was because I could, and because it was easy. An RSS aggregator makes it really simple for you to track even far more than the 50 blogs I had on my radar. Just a couple of mouse clicks gives you a new news feed, and takes another two-minute bite out of your day. (Some people boast of tracking over a hundred blogs with their newsreader. Do they have jobs, or do they just devour news on a full-time basis?)

Another reason for reading lots of blogs is because of the whole blogging popularity contest thing. If you’ve gone to the effort of creating a blog, you probably want people to read what you’re writing. When I started this blog here on Sunpig, my intention was to use it as an on-line summary of what was going on in my life for friends and family. I’m rubbish at keeping in touch with people via letters, email and phone calls. A weblog would allow me to address all my friends at once, and be done with the whole personal interaction thing! (Have a look at my first posting from June 2000. It’s almost how I would have written a letter.)

But as weblogs have become more popular in general, I have been reading more of them, and I’ve been seeing how other people do things, like write stuff that is of interest to more than just one’s family and friends. Technical articles, political commentary, pop wisdom, and miscellaneous other punditry. Plenty of these other blogs have lots of readers. These readers comment on postings, and they mention them in their own blogs. It’s nice to have your own little community of folks who read your blog to find what’s up with you, but there is a large amount of kudos and egoboo to be had from seeing one of your postings mentioned on a popular blog.

Did I succumb to that? Yes.

People crave recognition and attention. Even the most reclusive and shy of us love (perhaps secretly) being noted and admired. It’s a basic human need.

And one of the best ways of gaining attention in the blogging community is to participate in that community. Today, that participation takes the form of writing comments on postings you find interesting, writing follow-up postings and sending trackback pings to the original blog, or mentioning other blogs in your own postings, and generating enough through traffic to leave an imprint on the other blog’s referer logs. You can also ping weblog notification services when you write something new, or hang out on blogging bulletin boards. You can even take out paid adverts to drive traffic to your site.

Writing timely, original, and informative content can help, but it’s not necessary. That may get you noticed and nicely indexed by search engines, and they may drive lots of traffic to you (Sunpig.com gets well over 600 hits via Google alone every week), but you probably won’t get much in the way of repeat blog business from that. You may get lots of interesting email from complete strangers, though, and that can be fun in its own right.

Getting noticed once is relatively easy. Getting onto the daypop front page, or high up in the Technorati link cosmos takes a lot of time and continuous effort. Being there would be cool! Lots of people reading your stuff! Name recognition! Fame, fortune, and babes wherever you go! But is it worth all the effort you have to put in to get there?

Back to RSS feeds…endless swathes of them. I don’t really think I was consuming lots of feeds just so I could take part in the whole blogging community, and so get myself noticed. (Maybe subconsciously, though…) I enjoyed reading the articles themselves, and the pages they led me to that I would otherwise never have visited. But most weblog postings are transient, bound to a time and a virtual place that has passed through its glory season before I can set foot there. It’s mostly fluff and filler. What isn’t fluff and filler I can look up on Google when I need it. And if I’m in the mood for some fluff to waste some time on, it’s easily found again.

While I was away in Boston over the weekend, I checked my email twice, and uploaded some photos and narrative–mainly to show Abi and Alex and my parents what we were doing. Not once did I miss my RSS updates from those dozens of blogs. When I got back home, the NewsGator beta software I’d been using had expired.

I uninstalled it, and I felt free.

I’m not going to stop posting here all of a sudden. I’m still going to use this weblog as a dumping ground for what’s going on in my life, random opinions, rants, and other random bloggage. But I’m doing this for myself, and all of my friends I’m too lazy to keep in regular email contact with. I’m not out to expand my readership, or to drive more traffic to this site. If that happens, fine. (Hi! Welcome!) But it’s really not what I’m about. After Alex goes to bed in the evenings, I have little enough personal time, and there are more interesting things I want to do with it, such as:

  • reading more books
  • getting back into drumming
  • writing some fiction again
  • doing some recreational coding
  • getting my Bob Shaw project off the ground

And hey, maybe getting to bed a little earlier in the evenings. That wouldn’t be a bad thing, either. And on that note….

2 Replies to “On life without an RSS aggregator”

  1. well done you. I don’t use an aggregater myself (other than UKBlogs – which led me here), but have found that reading blogs is wasting a huge amount of my time and as much as I enjoy the odd one, most of them either wind me up or bore the pants off of me – anything more than a paragraph tends to make me go elsewhere these days. I’m down to no more than 5 daily from 30 or more recently.

    Now, if I can just kick the referral-browsing addiction…

  2. I’ve never really looked at RSS and only read half a dozen blogs (all written by friends) regularly.

    I really write my own blog for people I know and while I agree that it’s nice to know people read and appreciate it and great to get feedback on it, I’d rather 10 friends read it than 100 strangers.

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