I used to subscribe to all my favorite blogs and read them in Google Reader. But no matter how much I tried to stay on top of them, I always ended up subscribed to 100 or more blogs, which were collectively posting hundreds of times a day. I was spending hours skimming through blog posts.
There is something about the RSS feed reader that makes a completist like me feel like I have to at least look at every post that shows up. Maybe it’s that bold number at the top. I have to get it down to 0 each time I open up Reader. It’s like my email Inbox — it must always be empty. And it feels like cheating to mark everything as read when I hadn’t actually read it.
Another problem was that I was reading about the same things 5, 6 or 10 times over in different blogs. There aren’t that many blogs that consistently post new content. Usually, they just react to the same bit of news as everyone else.
So one day, not too long ago, I unsubscribed to most of the blogs in my Reader. And I started following the bloggers on Twitter instead.
Almost everyone who blogs is also on Twitter. And they usually tweet about their own blog posts as well as other interesting bits of news and links. So everything in their RSS feeds also shows up on Twitter.
But I don’t have the same need to have to catch up with everything on Twitter that I do in my RSS feed reader. Twitter is like a river of information flowing by (I know that New York Times columnist used the same metaphor in his Twitter article but he stole it from me — he must have overheard me making this observation in a Starbucks or something). Every now and then, when I have a few minutes, I dip my toes in the river. Google Reader, on the other hand, is more like a dam, and all the new information flowing in backs up into a lake that I feel compelled to empty.
But what if I miss something? Well, so what if I do. The Internet is so vast, and there is so much interesting stuff going on all the time, that I’m bound to miss many things. Besides, the truly interesting things get reposted so much that I will see them sooner or later. By doing most of my reading through Twitter, I have found that I am more in control of how long I spend surfing. Whether I want to stop in for a few minutes or hang out for an hour, when I am done and ready to move on to other things, I just close the page and walk away.
Twitter lists are the new feature that have made this really possible for me. I obviously don’t want to follow thousands of people — too much noise. I tend to follow just the people who are consistently interesting. But I can add anyone I want to a list without having to follow them. So when I want to dip into a particular subject of interest, such as the world of book bloggers or minor celebrities, I open up my list on that topic.
I still use Google Reader, but it’s a much more targeted use now. RSS is a very handy way of keeping on top of news that really interests me, such as local events or personal friends’ FriendFeeds or Google alert results. And there are still a very few blogs where I want to see every posting. For instance, I know if it’s interesting, eventually it’s going to show up on MetaFilter, so I still subscribe to that feed. But now when I open Google Reader, the bold number that faces me is usually less than 20, which is a lot easier to zero out.
This is yet another reason why Twitter is so much greater than people generally think it is. And it’s not at all addictive. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find out whether Justin Bieber is still trending.