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Of RSS and Twitter

There are lots of great applications and technologies out there for us internet addicts to use as we read and blog. Generally these technologies are invented to fulfill a specific need, but then are frequently adapted by others to extend beyond the original purpose. Generally that purpose is advertising or spam.

Take Twitter, for instance. Twitter was originally developed as a microblogging platform – a counterpart to the unlimited length of text regular blogging allows. With that lack of restriction sometimes comes a bit of inertia to overcome, as some bloggers, myself included, often feel that short little posts about where you are or what you’re doing at that given moment aren’t “worthy” of hitting the blog’s big stage. Enter Twitter, where that’s the sole point of the service. It’s like broadcast instant messaging, where one can announce to everyone at once the thought that crosses their mind.

Twitter is often used by bloggers to do something I’m not crazy about – announce that they’ve posted something new on their blog. It’s not that this breaks any rules of Twittering, it’s that there is a much more suitable technology for following people’s blog’s – RSS.

RSS has completely changed the way that I, and many others, read blogs and websites, and I suspect that we’re really just at the beginning of this movement. RSS is to the web what DVRs were to television. DVRs made it simple to break free from the rigid schedule of programming supplied by the broadcasters and aggregate it’s content into a single location, allowing you to consume what content you wanted to see when you want to see it. RSS readers do essentially the same thing. Instead of me keeping a list of a bookmarks of my favorite sites and continuously click through them to see if there’s anything new, I can subscribe to each site in my RSS reader. When one of those sites posts something new, my RSS reader keeps track of it for me until I either read the article, or mark it as read if I’m not interested.

I’ve read some people’s comments that they’re not interested in using an RSS reader for a number of reasons. They like actually visiting the site of the person/publication to read the article. They start following too many RSS feeds and get bogged down reading too much. Sometimes they just don’t get the concept at all. Put your fears aside, folks, because syndication is the way of the web future. If you can provide quality content, the UI of your site is irrelevant. As more and more people start using RSS readers, the number of people actually visiting the site itself will decline (this will unfortunately lead to more advertising in RSS feeds, but that’s a topic for another day). Graphics designers might get a little nervous at the thought that the need for their services to design web site front ends might decline, but as always – content is king. Making a web site pretty who’s main purpose is to provide content, such as news sites, is really a wasted effort for the end product.

My RSS reader of choice is Google Reader, which after trying several has easily earned the top spot on my list. The main advantage to me is that it keeps my feed list centralized, as opposed to client or browser plugin RSS readers which are specific to the PC you’re using. This isn’t a big deal for the individual who does all their surfing on their home PC, but for people like me who regularly use two or more computers, having Google Reader keep track of the articles I’ve already read in a central location is a big time saver. Google Reader has a lot of other great features like keyboard shortcuts for power readers, the ability to share some of your feeds with other people, and a statistics screen that you can use to see what feeds have gone inactive or that you’re ignoring so you can prune your list of feeds.

My number of feeds hovers around 200. Several groups of feeds I only read at work, like SharePoint or Lotus sites. Some I primarily follow at home, such as my political feeds. One of the great features of WordPress based blogs is the ability to follow the comments for an individual post. This is really useful when you comment on someone post and want to follow the responses. As an aside, one of my biggest pet peeves is when some WordPress templates do not include the link to subscribe to that post’s comments, however, you can work around this by taking the post permalink (URL) and adding “feed” to the end of it to add it to your reader of choice.

Some Twitter users only use it as a notification service that they have added a new post to their site, and I choose not to follow those Twitter accounts. Twitter is a great microblogging service, but a poor way to follow syndicated content. I personally can’t imagine trying to follow 200 Twitter users and use my Twitter Find & Follow screen to figure out what I have and haven’t read. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

Both of these technologies have proven themselves in today’s Internet and will likely gain in usefulness for years to come. If you haven’t yet tried either, now is a good time to get on board. Just keep in mind what the strengths are of each and you’ll have a better experience using them.

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  1. I’ve found that I actually have to do a hybrid between Twitter and Blogging to make me happy.

    Twitter is much easier to post my little updates. But a lot of times that becomes something I should have blogged. And I have about 1/4 the *followers* on Twitter any given day compared to blog readers so I have been going back to my Twitter feed and trying to put those thoughts into a blog.

    In the alternative, I have my Twitter feed hooked up to my Facebook Status page. And there, with a ridiculous amount of *connections* and friends I know that most of the people over there do not regularly check into my blog. So I occasionally link to a post, mainly to attract those 300 people to come visit my blog, hoping they will stay or come back. Many of my friends on Facebook do not follow my blog, so I’m trying to create a balance.

    You know, be all things. πŸ™‚

  2. This is why I only use a select number of social media outlets. This site, my Twitter account, and an IM account for friends/family only. No Facebook, Myspace, etc. I don’t need to be that ubiquitous. πŸ˜‰

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