Stronger Signal, Less Noise

by Jason Falls |
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If there’s one social media tool, or more appropriately, one technological advancement which enhances social media I am beholden to above all others, it’s RSS. Really Simple Syndication redefined web surfing for me. I’m convinced it can do the same for the rest of the world, whenever they come around to it. I’m even happy to spread the joy.

[flickr style=”float: right”]photo:455572466[/flickr]Using RSS and an RSS reader, however, can become overwhelming. There are lots of websites, blogs, news feeds and the like I want to monitor. My role as a social media strategist for brands through my agency demands I stay on top of the advertising and marketing world, as well as the categories in which my brands compete. My role as a blogger is part journalist, so I feel like I should be up to speed on lots of different topics. And then there’s the content I monitor because I just want to. Last week, after nearly six months of hoarding feeds, I looked up and had 379 subscriptions. It’s not Scoble-esque, but way too much.

I’ve offered up thoughts before on how to manage your feed reading time but what do you do when you’ve over-indulged on subscriptions? Here’s how I cut 379 subscriptions down to under 200, only 85 of them personal and blog-related, and have made my RSS experience more efficient.

  1. Reassess Every Feed – While looking at some of my Google Reader Trends helped me delete several stale and seldom read feeds, I really did this in an unconventional, but thorough way. I made a migration of all my non-client or work-related feeds to a different feed reader. I was using Google Reader as my primary consumption point, and still recommend it to clients and newcomers to the RSS experience. But I moved anything personal or blog-life related to Netvibes. In doing so, I opened up each feed in Google Reader and asked the following questions:
    1. Glancing at the headlines, are these posts I’m really interested in or find useful?
    2. Are these topics covered on other blogs by more experienced or credible authors?
    3. In the time I’ve subscribed, have I been drawn to stop and read something or click through and comment?

    If my answers were yes, no, yes, I copied and pasted the feed to Netvibes. The only exceptions were 2-3 close friends I don’t want to get caught not having read. I was very careful and conservative in the approach. When in doubt, the feed got cut. If that blog becomes more relevant, I’ll find it again.

  2. Use Different Readers For Personal vs. Professional Reading – This approach is smart for a couple of reasons. First, you can separately manage two categories of feeds much easier than one big one. Second, you can avoid the temptation and trap of personal feed reading at work, making you more productive and efficient where it counts.When I migrated to Netvibes, I only did so for feeds I consider personal or Social Media Explorer-related. While certainly this blog is a compliment and related to my work, I do much of my blogging from home and would continue reading the feeds whether I continue to have a job or not. My Google Reader still has about 100 feeds or so I keep track of for clients or so I can stay abreast of what is happening in their industry.
  3. Where Possible, Combine And Filter Feeds Using Yahoo Pipes and AideRSS – I’m presently in the process of doing this with those 100 or so work feeds, so I’ll have to report back on nuts and bolts of it all. However, I’ve done sufficient research and discussed at length with RSS Zen Master Marshall Kirkpatrick, so I’m confident in the process.When you have multiple feeds from one category (Like alcohol, wine and spirits blogs I subscribe to for Beam Global Spirits and Wine.) but you really only want to find the relevant, popular and widely-read posts, AideRSS allows you to process feeds through its PostRank filtering. Then you can subscribe to the most popular posts, rather than all of them. By first driving all those alcohol, wine and spirits blogs through Yahoo Pipes, I can mash any number of feeds into one, filter that one through AideRSS and get the most popular blog posts from 30 blogs in one feed, leaving the lesser-read posts behind.This philosophy also makes it easier to keep up with those annoying, 20-30 post per day blogs. Running sites like TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable and others (no offense guys, you just crank out a lot of stuff to keep up with) through filtration, you weed out the good from the eh. And we could all use a little less eh, right? (And yes, Gabe, I subscribe to Techmeme, which filters a lot of that stuff out for me. Just don’t want to miss too much.)

So what functionality will I miss in Google Reader? Shared items are offered in a feed of their own which can be used on your blog as relevant additonal content. My “What I’m Reading” section (scroll down, far right sidebar) is my Google Reader shared items. I’ve not found a way to subscsribe to my public activity feed in Netvibes (suggestion for the NV team!) but del.icio.us tags are more powerful and can be used similarly, eliminating the need for shared items beyond bringing the attentions of your Google Reader friends to certain posts.

I also normally used Google Reader’s search functionality to proffer my list of “Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting” I normally tag on to each post. I figure if similar posts relevant to what I’m writing aren’t found in my subscriptions, why recommend them. Well, I can search all posts in Netvibes as well, but two newer features I’ve begun using more on my blog are the Sphere related content plugin you see at the end of the post and Zemanta’s contextual analysis and recommendation tool. As Zemanta gets better, it will go out and find those related posts with a higher degree of frequency than the two-month-old tool currently offers.

Beyond that, the only adjustment will be the aesthetics. While Netvibes is prettier to look at, I enjoy the flexibility of Google Reader in showing all feeds together, by folder or by feed.

The key to the success of this is to only add subscripitons that will meet the questions posed in step No. 2 above perfectly. If I fail there, I guess I’ll have to migrate somewhere else. (Bloglines people can refrain from bugging me about it. You’re next.)


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).