RSS Feed icons

Here’s a site dedicated to promoting icons for feeds. I like the icon and have one on my sidebar, however I am going to take issue with anyone who suggests that this will help eliminate confusion or bring feeds to the forefront. If you were to look at this icon and didn’t know what a feed is, would you have any clue from looking at the icon alone? In fact, when I added it to my sidebar I decided to stick the “subscribe” text right next to it because the icon itself doesn’t really mean anything to me.

No doubt this will be an icon that will see much use what with Microsoft adopting it in IE7, and perhaps people will get conditioned to it much like so many other things involving desktop computing. However, if we are really looking for visual cues that entice people to click on them or at least offer a clue as to what they do, then we’re going to have to do a lot better than this.

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The Economist Covers Open Source

The Economist has a special report feature covering open source software. The main thrust of the piece is that oss is a force but also has it’s own vulnerabilities.

There are some contradictions in the article, like how they state that open source is primarily driven by volunteers and anyone can edit or add code. However, this is clearly not the case, as is evidenced by their own examples.

“Today, the Mozilla Foundation manages the code and employs a dozen full-time developers.”
where…
“there are around 400 contributors trusted to offer code into the source tree, usually after a two-stage review.”

and later they look at MySQL…
“When it comes to the software itself, the company is very much in charge. It rarely accepts code from outside developers”

This sounds to me like a traditional software product management process.

The tail half of the article focused heavily on what customers are doing with open source, which is a very interesting and valuable perspective. Despite the contradictions in this article, it is worth reading.

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State of the Aggregator

Niall Kennedy posts an excellent review of the state of information aggregators. It's easy to think of "aggregators" as simply "RSS" but in reality all of the web is an aggregator at it's core – hyperlinks. What the technology industry has accomplished in this regard is the dumbing down of data integration to simple text integration and XML brought with it a level of sophistication that enabled applications to do a wide array of smart things with this dumb text.

Almost 10 years after then introduction of early web feed formats we are just starting to tap into the full potential of feeds as a descriptive data format with rich payloads and more easily discoverable content.

There are no shortage of reviews on RSS aggregators, which form the bulk of the user powered aggregation that is happening today, but if we fast forward a couple of years I would imagine we simply have to get to a point of doing something more than giving more information to people. What is lacking is attention prioritization and noise reduction. I am on the verge of making some big changes in the way I consume blog content. I have 280 feeds that I would call mostly current, and they simply don't work for me anymore. What I want my RSS app to do is tell me the things I don't know that I want to know. Today, it's up for me to do the heavy lifting with RSS, I have to find the interesting feeds to subscribe to and then sort the content into a hierarchy that makes sense for me.

The whole notion of hierarchy is interesting because it's not just the categorization of feeds but also the "hierarchy of attention" that I want to devote to them. I read Om's blogs everyday (which is where I got the link to Niall's post), and what I want my RSS app to know is that I place a high degree of attention to Om's posts. The Feedburner blog is also a regular read although not with the same attention that I give Om, not because I find the writing any less interesting but simply because it's not as actionable to me. How should an RSS app capture this nuance? Don't know, but if someone can figure it out they would have me as an advocate.

Blogs in particular are at risk because of the relative easy of proliferating content and the difficulty of establishing utility. I referred to the "big changes" I'm considering, the first of which is to hit the unsubscribe button for everything and start over. I am finding myself in a rut of reading the same blogs, and with tech.memeorandum enabling a supercharged echo chamber (which is not a criticism by the way, just an observation) I need to break out. I'm considering pairing back my blogroll to a "top 40" (or whatever number it actually ends up being) concept and the only way a new blog could be added would be to replace one of the existing ones.

I asked a wood carver once how he was able to create the impressive pieces that he was known for, he told me that it was really pretty simple because he didn't focus on what should be there only what should not, to him carving was simply the act of removing anything that didn't belong in the piece. This is what I need to change my RSS habits to, reduction instead of addition, and I would like to see some RSS aggregators take this on as a primary feature goal.

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