I’ve been reading a few people’s ideas about the future of content filtering on the interwebs. Generally, a lot of the tech-savvy peeps out there are saying that RSS is dead – that it’s an antiquated way of reading information. This guy argues that we should all use Twitter instead – that it will do just as good a job filtering content so that I only see the stuff I want to see. Other applications are trying to filter content as well. Facebook is trying to push users towards the “top news” timeline rather than the “most recent.” Other forums like Reddit and a bajillion others use some method of voting, so that the best information gravitates to the top. Even Google recently removed their prominent link to Google Reader from the top of their Gmail page.
This is great, but I have a few problems with the idea that this form of media consumption is a suitable replacement for RSS. I don’t want to be the luddite that won’t move away from RSS even though everyone else already has, but using Google Reader does a few things for me that other methods of receiving information aren’t doing.
1. Twitter, Facebook, and other methods of getting info don’t keep track of what I’ve seen and what I haven’t. This makes it great for discovering stuff that I have no idea is out there, but it’s a clumsy way to keep track of info I know is coming. It’s easy for things to get lost. I follow 140 people on twitter (which is extremely modest, some follow many more), and I’m often frustrated when I log in, and can’t tell where I left off reading last time. Also, you start reading at the newest, which means you’re reading all the conversations backwards. Annoying.
2. Twitter is real-time, but my viewing time comes in spurts. I can’t keep up with real-time info feeds reliably, because I have things to do other than read twitter all day. Twitter doesn’t work well at all for someone who, for example, doesn’t have time to read much during the week, but has plenty of time to catch up on weekends.
3. A lot of the information I want to read (and most of what I produce) will never get voted to the top of anything. Maybe it’s my aunt’s cat blog and I’m the only reader or something…. but I want to make sure I read all new content, even if it’s lousy. If I rely only on sources like Facebook or Twitter, I’m sure to miss something.
4. Twitter often requires me to click through to another page before I can tell if it’s something I’m interested in reading or not – this problem is compounded by the ubiquitous shortened URL’s that don’t give me any indication about where I’m clicking through to.
Of course, all this being said, I can certainly admit that I spend a lot of time trying to filter through everything on my own in Google Reader. I have tons of stuff in my reader that I don’t regularly read, but I leave it in there because every once in a while something useful pops up. I can certainly see the value of a media format that would sort that for me …but…. If I moved away from RSS, wouldn’t I just follow those same news outlets in Twitter, leaving me to sort through the same amount of stuff?