500 down, 3061 to go

I’ve been gathering feeds in my Bloglines aggregator for some time now, hoarding them like a bower bird in a tinsel shop, weaving them together into one unholy unread mess. A few months ago I had a flurry of half-hearted search activity for the perfect aggregator, and although then I think I concluded that the RSS plug-in for Firefox was nifty and that BlogMatrix Jäger was also worth a look, my nomadic non-laptop owning lifestyle of the time meant that a web-based aggregator was the only serious option, so I stayed with Bloglines.

At the beginning of this week I had 310 feeds showing around 25,000 unread posts. I had toyed with the idea of declaring RSS bankruptcy and just starting again, but I was getting increasingly unhappy with chaotic state of my feeds and deep down I knew that hitting ‘mark all posts read’ would do nothing to solve the problem in the long run.

There were two issues. Firstly, I never had enough time to sit and read all my feeds, or even to work out which ones I could safely mark as read whilst actually leaving them unread. Thus I would pick which feeds to read based on which had the lowest number of unread posts (anything in double figures was likely to get ignored, triple figures ensured I wasn’t gonna touch it for a goodly long time). Secondly, although I had made a stab at categorising them through the use of folders, they really were all over the place and utterly chaotic. This meant that ever time I glanced at Bloglines I was confronted with one fugly mess.

Aggregator crisis point had been reached.

The advantage of hanging out with well informed blog-geek Mac-obsessives is that when I whine about needing a new aggregator, I am given advice and I happily make the assumption that whatever is recommended is going to be good. So over the last couple of days I have migrated my OPML (someone, please sort out some sort of OPML standard so that I can export/import without having to manually to fix crappy, import-snafuing code) from Bloglines to NetNewsWire.

Immediately my unread headlines list diminished to less than 4500, just because NNW only pulls down the latest 30 headlines, instead of the maximum of 200 that Bloglines marks as unread before it stops counting. I managed to quickly delete 25 blogs I knew I didn’t need anymore, and easily sorted the rest into folders. Sitting now on the train back to Dorset, I’ve read through around 500 posts, because NNW caches them locally so I don’t need to be connected in order to read.

At last, I feel like I am in control of my aggregator again. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the amount of information that I ought to be absorbing, instead of feeling scared to open my aggregator because the unread posts are gonna overtop any second and flood my poor little brain, I feel like I have a nice, tidy resource that I can dip into any time I want. Of course, much of this is an illusion, facilitated by a folder cunningly called ‘blogs/tech/stuff’ which contains pretty much everything that’s currently uncategorised, but I can cope with that act of wilful self-deception.

All this, the offline reading, the chilling out with my friends’ feeds, the feeling of regained control, has been reinvigorating. There have been blogs of friends that I’ve not read in ages because I felt like I ‘should’ be reading blogs related to work, even though frequently those are some of the least interesting blogs to read. No one can begrudge me spending a train journey reading through non-work stuff, not even me and I’m the worst workaholic I know.

Thing is, it’s reading the unrelated stuff, the fun stuff, that is important. It’s through picking up on a random comment by someone else that some how fits in just so with something that someone else said and something that I was thinking that pokes my brain and gives me that a-ha! moment that I constantly seek. It’s through faffing and playing around on the edges of things and allowing my brain to synthesise ideas without the imposition of expectation or structure that I stand the greatest chance of coming to some new understanding. It’s through finding a gem of a post that I regain/retain my love for blogging – and, doing what I do, maintaining a love for blogging is essential.

13 thoughts on “500 down, 3061 to go

  1. OMG, I thought I had a lot with ~80 feeds

  2. I am sure NetNewsWire is brilliant but that does not solve the non laptop owning nomadic lifestyle issue where web based aggregators are the only real option. That is unless your palm or phone can pick up full feeds and cache them for reading on the train. Actually if you have a non laptop nomadic lifestyle how do you read the feeds on the train to Cardif? Do you have your desktop Mac on the train or do your print the lot out?

    I have often found myself in exactly the same position as you with Bloglines when confronted by hundreds of unread posts. Isn’t it odd that we tend to ignore a feed with 200 unread posts but go for the feed with just one! I suspect it’s a percieved time issue. If you open up the feed with 200 do you feel obliged to read them all? I sort of do.

    Being desktop bound,PC at work and Mac/PC at home I have found Bloglines to be invaluable.

    It would be nice if Bloglines would let us choose how much stuff to show as being not read – either a number we can set of a time period would be good. If enough of us ask then they will improve it!

  3. even better

    get NNW to auto-delete items if you don’t read them (don’t worry they will still be on the web, RSS is not email since unlike email everything on the web has a URL)

    Just set the ‘persistence’ to one day or whatever make sense. That’s what I have done for my NON MUST feeds so my number of unread items in the NON MUST never goes up without bound

  4. Simon: Yes, the non-laptop owning nomadic lifestyle is difficult. I should imagine that there must be a full feed reader for a PDA, phone or hiptop. I have several people with SideKicks who seem to have no problem staying on top of their online life, so I am guessing you could cache RSS locally and read on the train if you get the right bit of kit. I don’t actually know what the right bit of kit would be, exactly, but it would be a bit crap if there wasn’t some sort of solution.

    Yes, perceived time is, I think, the reason we go for the smaller feeds than the ones with hundreds of unread posts. It’s maybe that you can’t just read half the posts and still have the others marked as unread – it markes everything as read ergo you lose the data of which posts you’ve read and which you haven’t. It’s an all or nothing situation. If you don’t have the time to read them all, you end up reading nothing.

    Rod: Oooh! Exciting! Definitely a good move by Bloglines and NetNewsWire. I look forward to that functionality.

    Roland: Auto-delete… ooh scary! I might miss something!

  5. It seems like it would be a nice option (I guess) if Bloglines could be told to stop counting at a certain number of unread posts, but I don’t really see the point. Is this some kind of self-deception? Either way you are reading the same amount… or not reading as the case may be. I’m not clear on what was gained by the switch other than 1) taking some time to clean house and 2) no more niggling features like being able to access your subscriptions efficiently from different machines šŸ™‚

  6. Or, in other words, what did you gain that you couldn’t have gained by just dumping the same subscriptions in bloglines, marking everything read, and starting again? I don’t get it. Nothing against NNW, it’s great. So is FeedDemon on a PC…

  7. suw, you are not really missing anything if an item is auto-deleted


    i) every piece of content has a URL so you can find it again

    ii) somebody else in your MUST list will point to it if you miss it

    iii) you can’t catch everything unless you have no life šŸ™‚ and i know you have a life

  8. Hmmm. What, exactly, did you have to do to the Bloglines OPML export to get NNW to accept it? I can’t seem to get it to acknowledge the saved files existence. šŸ™

  9. Never mind. D’oh. Just had to rename it with an .opml extension…

  10. Chris L: It’s a psychological problem, that of having too many unread feeds and not enough time to read them resulting in one feeling under pressure or whatever. One wants to keep track, but on the other hand, one doesn’t have time, so deleting feeds or marking some as read when they have not been some is just a bit housecleaning in order to reduce the signal to noise ratio, i.e. make it easier to spot when the feeds that are important have been updated.

    I’ve dealt with this by moving the less important feeds to another folder, so I don’t actually see how many unread posts there are and they don’t impinge upon me unless I choose to look at them. I don’t want to mark everything read, because I want to remember which ones I haven’t read. It’s a ‘knowing what you don’t know’ thing.

    Roland: Yes, I know everything has persistance online, but that’s not the point for me. It’s like I say above, I want to know what I don’t know – I want to know which feeds I haven’t read, rather than let them slip off the radar completely.

    But yes, in order to have a life one can’t possibly read all the feeds that are out there, but I have a tendency towards completism and perfectionism so it’s an ongoing battle in my life for me to retain balance. Luckily, I now have help. šŸ˜‰

    Liz: Actually, I had to rename the file with an OPML extension, then I had to delete the tag and the closing tag and then it worked just fine.

  11. The problem with current web feed readers is that they don’t solve the information overload problem. You can pick and choose which RSS feeds you subscribe to, sure. But, once you have tens or hundrededs of subscribed feeds, reading them becomes this cumbersome process. Click on a feed, skim the articles. Anything interesting in that one? No. Click, skim. Click, skim. Click, skim. Ugh.

    We’re trying to solve that problem at Findory. It’s a personalized newspaper and weblog reader. It learns your interests, searches thousands of news sources and weblogs, and builds a front page just for you. Findory tries to help surface the interesting news from the sea of information.

    I’d love to hear what you think of it, Suw.

  12. I was a NNW user until recently, when I discovered Shrook. Its a bit slow, but it already supports syncing with shrook.com. It also does distributed feed checking. That means that when one Shrook client finds a new feed item, it reports that back to shrook.com, which passes the new item on to other Shrook clients.

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