I’ll come right out and say this: RSS is dead to me and Twitter is on life support.
News is an important thing. Though the face of news has been changing of late due to the penchant of the Internet to screw up well-entrenched business models, I have done many things to attempt to stay current with the happenings in the areas of which I have interest, ranging from fleeting to intense; such areas are technology (duh!), food, travel, and urbanism, among other things.
When I was in college, RSS was my go-to technology for staying in touch with each of my varied interests. I was also able to visit major news sites for a fix of politics, world news, etc, without feeling the need to constantly be on top of those topics. Then came Facebook, which was an easy way to stay in touch with other people, even post my passing thoughts; the rest is history on how far Facebook has come in being a news source. Finally, I stumbled upon a new and innovative service called Twitter. It took awhile for me to really get used to the 140 character limit, but I quickly used Twitter, as I do now: follow interesting people, add interesting blogs to a list, keep in touch with specific people. For me, as for many, Twitter has become my real-time news source.
But here’s the thing: my trip to Italy allowed for a rare disconnect from all the services that are available to me on a daily basis. For one, before my trip, Twitter had become more of a chore than a joy to use. My usage of the service had changed from active interaction to that of a catch-all for anything and everything, from recipes to news. Neurotic as I can be, I ended up constantly checking Twitter therefore for the latest of all of the above. Those who know me also know that I attempt not to be a slave to any one service, which meant that the moment I started feeling too dependent on Twitter was the moment I stopped using Twitter. Now I am actively attempting to rethink how I use the service, which brings me to a case and point.
I have 59 Facebook friends. I got into Facebook when it was still called The Facebook and it was only available to college campuses. At one point, I became so fed up with Facebook that I deleted my account outright. In that act, I started over and I took back control of an otherwise out-of-control service. I am now much happier on Facebook, only connecting to those people with whom I actually want to interact and share. In a word, the service is now peaceful.
With the success of my transformation of Facebook into a legitimate service for my needs, I have started to feel empowered about the other services I use: mail, media, and news, among others. But I wanted to specifically talk about news today because the one service that is officially dead to me is RSS. For those of you who don’t know what RSS is, it allows for collection and aggregation of many sources, news or otherwise, into a single area, much like an inbox. Syndication is actually one of the Ss in the acronym, so that might help understand it better. However, the reason why this relatively simple syndication method is dead to me is because my use of it has gone beyond my control.
I’m sure that with effort, I could bring the service back within my control, but I started to ask myself why. Prior to my disconnect, I had become neurotic about being on top of the very latest news and quips from my favorite bloggers. While I still enjoy the idea of being on top of the news, the fact is that I will still come across the information if it is in fact news. As such, I have been trying and successfully using other services that provide me with the most recent news, especially given what an echo chamber the Internet is on certain subjects. In addition, the use of periodicals and long form writings have given me a new appreciation for the well-reasoned and well-researched.
I mentioned Twitter as being on life support for me and I want to explain that: I think it is because it is yet another service that has gone beyond my control. Twitter is a service that I normally really enjoy and, with the tools that I use (namely Tweetbot), the service has become more useful. However, it is a time waster for many, something in which I am not interested at this point in my life. If I need to waste time, I should do something productive, instead of mind-numbing. Meanwhile, I really enjoy staying in touch with people with whom I would otherwise not have any connection. More people are able to connect with me than on other services as well. As I continue to prune the list of people I follow, I will revisit the service’s usefulness to me moving forward.
RSS is dead to me not because there was something wrong with the way that the technology worked for me, but because of the way that I used it and the time that I had started to surrender to it. As with similar services in my life, therefore, I see no need for things that take up precious time; time that would be better spent elsewhere. As for my current news intake, Zite, coupled with Flipboard, Digg (maybe), and the aforementioned periodicals, provides me with more than enough content and content sources. As I hone what each service or app shows me, I can better curate what I am reading, and focus on becoming more purposeful with my time.
Did the Internet community peak at bookmarks? Asked in a different and perhaps more complete way: just as technologies like RSS and email in their purest forms are hard to beat even as technology marches forward, what better technology exists to keep track of information on the ever-expanding Internet than bookmarks? Taken a step further, what better way to share the bookmarked information than a site of your own? As such, I‘ve been reading, which is why I write now.
Working in and having a passion for libraries, I am struck by the fact that the way bookmarks work in the physical world is not directly analogous to bookmarks in the digital world. Bookmarks in the digital world are instead like dog-eared pages or highlighted passages; if you think of the Internet as a single tome, that is. In any case, anything that moves you to deface a book should probably be shared or become immortalized in some other way than just a reference for a future version of yourself.