J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Improving Your Feed Reading

Improving Your Feed Reading

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I like to sweep my practices at the start of the year.  My feed reading practices needed a revamp to reduce some friction.  I have some friends ramping up on blogging and feed reading, so I figured I'd share my approach. 

Steps for Improving Your Feed Reading
Here's the steps I used to improve my feed reading efficiency and effectiveness:

  • Step 1. Archive your feeds.
  • Step 2. Define your critical set.
  • Step 3. Carry your good feeds forward.
  • Step 4. Chop high-traffic feeds down to size.
  • Step 5. Add tools to your Web browser.
  • Step 6. Test it and modify your approach.

Step 1. Archive your feeds.
Create a clean slate by archiving your feeds.  Personally, I find it easier to let things go if I archive a snapshot that I can always go back to. 

I had a bunch of feeds I built up over the year, particularly for research projects.  Although I periodically trimmed, I still had bloat.  I find it's faster to archive everything and carry the good forward, than to try trim the fat.  While doing this, I realized I had a large set of feeds that were really more of a reference set that just didn't belong in my day to day working set.  For my working set, I realized that, rather than focus on which blogs to follow, I should figure out which circles of people to follow.  In other words, rather than find the best spoutlets of information, find the best interactive forums of insight.  I'm thinking I'll get more from connecting to the circles of people, conversations, energy and momentum, rather than just harvesting blogs on topics.  A great blog is often a reflection of a great network.

Ultimately, the beauty of picking your feeds is you get to pick who you spend your time with.

Step 2. Define your critical set.
Carve out your critical set.  This is your immediate circle versus your outer circle. These are the blogs you really want to stay on top of and actively participate in.  These are your vital few.  Use limits if it helps.  For example, first identify your critical twenty.

Keep this list flat, even if it varies by topic.  When you open your reader, this is the main list of feeds you first see, before going into any folders.  The key here is to not exceed your capacity.  You'll want a set of feeds you can make it through each day within whatever time-box you allocate.  (For me, I budget 30 minutes a day for feeds, including commenting.)  I find it's easier to add than to take away, so start small.

This is probably the single most important step.  It's the difference between feeling bogged down in your feeds or being on top of your game.

Step 3. Carry your good feeds forward.
You've probably accumulated tons of great needles among your many haystacks.  That's why it's important that you first carved out your critical set.   Now you can simply carry forward all of your good feeds.  Lump them under a general bucket.  For me, I named a folder "Feeds," and dumped them all their.

What this means is, I open my reader and I immediately see my MUST list.  With one click I see my SHOULD/COULD list.  This is similar to opening up your inbox and only seeing the most important mails before checking any other folders you route things too.

Once you have your large bucket, you can consider carving out a couple of your priority niches, if it helps you focus.  For example, I carved out a bucket for my fellow patterns & practices team.  I also created buckets for Microsoft, personal development, blogging and productivity.

The key here is to be able to open your feeds, cycle through your priority list, and then be able to hit your niches or explore your larger "catch all" bucket.  What you don't want is a large set of categories to bounce around in.

Step 4. Chop high-traffic feeds down to size.
If you have some high volume feeds, that seem to bog your down your randomize you, now is the time to slice and dice them proactively.  It's hard to see the forest from the trees when you're chopping your way through the jungle.  You can use two approaches:

  • Tools.  One of the tools I'm liking is aideRSS.   I'm using it to chop high-volume feeds like TechCrunch and BoingBoing down to size.
  • Human aggregators.  This includes friends or people you trust in key areas that seem to always send you just the right information.

Step 5. Add tools to your Web browser.
Obviously, this depends on the tools you're using, but think in terms of finding, storing, and sharing.  For me, I'm focused on three key things for now:

  • Links toolbar.  Drag links to your favorite Web 2.0 sites (FlickR, Technorati, Digg ...etc)  onto your Web brower's links toolbar.
  • del.icio.us.  I added the del.icio.us buttons to my browser so I could quickly bookmark sites and posts.
  • StumbleUpon.  I added StumbleUpon so that I can potentially benefit from circles of people slicing and dicing the Web.  This will potentially help me refine my feed set over time, as well as discover new feeds and sites to pay attention to.

My overall model is to depend more on people and sites that I trust over time, as well as social networks.  Otherwise, I can search as needed.

Step 6. Test it and modify your approach.
Cycle through your routine for at least a week, so you can test it and tune it.  What I did was set a quota of commenting in five blogs per day.  This helped me both find communities I might want to interact with, as well as get used to my feeds lists while using delicious and StumbleUpon.

The biggest change for me from the past, is that commenting is forcing me to focus more on the people participation than the raw knowledge of the site or blog.  This is making me rethink feedback platforms in blogs and the various patterns of blog interaction.

Key Take Aways
I know there's plenty more I could do.  For now, I thought it would be good to get back to the basics.  Here's the key points:

  • Factor out your MUST feeds from your SHOULDs/COULDs.  Less is more.
  • Chop your big feeds down to size with tools like aideRSS and with human aggregators.
  • Optimize your browser for your feed reading experience.  Reduce as much friction as you can.  Don't let your feed reading die a death of a thousand paper cuts.
  • Cycle through and test your approach.  If something's not working, change your approach.  Don't get stuck.
  • PingBack from http://msdn.blogsforu.com/msdn/?p=4577

  • Thanks JD, your blog is one of my critical set and provides me with very different insights from the other techie blogs I read.  I totally agree with your recommendation of the excellent del.icio.us toolbar. I now use it as a way of disseminating information to my team.  

    Finally, I have previously made little attempt to leave comments on blogs, despite the fact that I extract so much valuable information from them.  So that's my key action - to give a bit back to the community and try and comment on two blog posts per day.  And hey, I've already started!!!

  • Thanks Miles

    I appreciate your comment.  I'm glad you've found my posts insightful.  Good luck with your commenting effort -- I think you'll find it rewarding.

  • How can you read faster while improving your comprehension? A few of my colleagues who follow my Book

  • How can you read faster while improving your comprehension? A few of my colleagues who follow my Book

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