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November 24, 2006

The Inefficiency of Feed Readers

Feed readers are a very inefficient way to keep up with the news. As most news sites and blogs have feeds, you might think you save time by adding your favorite sites to a feed reader. After all, you don't have to visit them ever again if they publish full feeds or only if you find some interesting if they publish partial feeds.

A feed reader shows you the latest information from each site you've subscribed to. Often, many blogs discuss a single news, but you don't have all these posts at a glance. A feed reader should cluster related posts.

Closed universe
You have a list of feeds, but you can't discover new feeds organically. Your list of feeds should automatically based on your preferences.

Lack of order
There's no hierarchy in your feed reader. You may have only 5 minutes to find out what's new, but you don't know where to start. A good feed reader should rank posts and prioritize breaking news.

Sense of guilt
If you don't open/visit a feed reader for a week, you may end up with hundreds of thousands of unread posts. You may want to mark all as read and move on, but what if you lose something important? A feed reader forces you to read (or scan) each and every post.

No related universes
Maybe there are other people with similar tastes that may help you improve your universe. A feed reader should automatically detect that and suggest posts that were considered interesting by your virtual group of anonymous friends.

In most of these affirmations, I've described a typical feed reader. If you know one that does all of these things (or only some of them), let us know.


  1. i don't miss any of those. I don't think they do have so much to do with just reading feeds but that's all i'd like to do with my feedreader ;)

    btw: i'm using the google reader and i'm nearly satisfied with it.

  2. "Inefficient" is a good way to describe how I first started using RSS readers lately - Outlook 2007. I had never bothered to use an application to read RSS feeds before and while it is cool to get headlines delivered with my mail, that is sort of the problem - a lot of sites just deliver the headlines so you can click on a link and they can still generate ad views. The whole reason I use outlook on my laptop is to read mail and RSS feeds while offline (on the train and such) and it sort of defeats the whole purpose.

    Fortunately my computer use is a 80 / 20 split in favor of desktop vs. laptop, so since I'm constantly connected at home and at work, there is one ideal solution for me: Google Reader. Everything gets delivered to one location, you can scroll through all unread items on a single page, and if you subscribe to sites that do a ton of updates (ie it is much easier to read everything in Google Reader than to click on individual boxes in Outlook.

    It's still hard to overcome "redundancy" as mentioned but most sites operate on the idea of being a person's main source of information, so they're not going to pass on posting something because it may already be on another site.

    Google Reader wouldn't really work for people who need a lot offline access (unless they've recently integrated it with Google Desktop the way Outlook has worked) but if you're connected most of the time it seems to be the way to go.

    Google Video may have lost to YouTube (which they now own anyway) and Orkut didn't become MySpace, but GMail and Google Reader are the two most practical, well designed "web apps" out there. Docs & Spreadsheets is not bad either.

    If they can keep this up, Microsoft will be sweating it out. People's use of PC's has become less sophisticated over the past few years (there are a lot of people who do nothing besides IM, MySpace, and e-mail) and it is getting to the point where the browser can accomplish every task the average person wants to accomplish. Good work, GMen.

  3. That's just silly. I already have ~20 feeds and I am very conservative about adding new ones. The last thing I'd want is some software trying to guess which sites I want to follow.

    And sometimes I specifically want to catch up on certain sites and skip others. I definitely don't want all news items to be in "one big prioritised pile".

  4. No way to cull out and publish, print or archive exceptional posts.

  5. Firefox's Live bookmarks actually work fine for me, every day I take about 20 minutes to check my feeds. Google reader works good too...

  6. > I already have ~20 feeds
    > and I am very conservative
    > about adding new ones.

    I have about 800+ feeds with ~50-100 entries per day in some of them. :-)

    What I really need is tags, priority/popularity/importance ranking and comments. But this is feed provider's matter first of all, not feed readers.

  7. I'm a blogger and a member of quite a few organizations, so I have a subscription to 75 feeds. I spend a long time and on some days I spend hourS reading feeds, so I definitely understand what you're saying about the inefficiency of feed readers. I use Google Reader and love it in comparison to others, but it could definitely be more efficient. Hopefully the designers of GReader and others have read this post and plan to take action.

  8. I have 7 feeds on my home page (including GOS), 15 more as Firefox live bookmarks, and 55 more in my Bloglines account. The biggest "problem" for me is the sense of guilt, or more accurately, the sense of obligation to read every single new post from every feed.

  9. Hi, Ionut. Findory does several of these in its feed reader at

    It recommends feeds and articles from other feeds. And the starting view, "Top Stories from Your Favorites", shows a prioritized list of recommended stories pulled from your feeds, reducing that overwhelming feeling of having too much to read.

    If you try it out, I would enjoy hearing what you think.

  10. I've used Findory many times, but I didn't create an account until today.

    The "Favorites" feature works pretty much like a feed reader, despite the name. I imported an OPML file and Findory showed 20 posts from them, almost sorted by date. I've noticed that the recommended posts are in the top positions. Unfortunately, the recommendations are not very good. Maybe I should use it more to train the system.

    The list of related blogs was quite big, and I liked that I could find new blogs. It would be nice to see related posts and also automatically-added favorites.

    The page lacked some categorization and some context for each post.

    All in all, your approach is very interesting and Findory as a personalized feed reader could become even more successful than as a news/blog search engine.

  11. Fgs a feed reader does what a feed reader should do, if you want it to do something else then do it yourself.

  12. I remember trying Google Reader when it came out but it didn't quite fit the bill for me and I stumbled on Netvibes, an online feedreader which i have been using since. It enables you to somewhat produce 'clusters' as you can create multiple tabs in which you place modules at your liking and the brand new search function does the trick by highlighting the posts titles similar to your search. It does make it easier to see who carries the same info and to choose one's favorite source.

  13. I use google reader, and it is almost i need.
    i've there more then 80 feeds, including download sites like filehippo.
    i tried bloglines but cant get used to it.

    my main complain about GR is the lack of a search.... come on, it GOOGLE

  14. I use the Wizz RSS Firefox extension.

    You can get it from

  15. I disagree.

    For me feedreaders are much better than visiting sites all the time. I still visit pages if a topic is of any interest for me. And I still google if I need something new.

    I wrote a note on how to use feeds some time a go.

    But you need a good feed reader to make it work for you! IE7 will probably make people more aware on feeds, but - at least now - it's not good enough for me to use.

  16. i understand well your question as i am not settled on a feed reader.

    i do like the one from opera, my main browser, who can help keeping good post from other and is spartiate but efficient and open the websites in the same view.

    There is a python newsreader with bayesian engine that learn from what you read to reorder your feeds if you have plenty of. at the time i tested it i was not interested. i could not ggogle it in 2 second.

    i also use a special software, wysigot, to watch some news website wihtout rss or with authentication

  17. I wrote this because many people are impressed with the existing feed readers (Blogines, Google Reader, Sage etc.). I things there's room for improvement.

  18. There's Rojo that fuses RSS with Digg voting System. The most voted/read news appear first, so if you only have 5 minutes, just check the top headlines.

    It also has a social factor, that you can add friends and see its feeds.

  19. I was also a fan of google reader when i came across feedreader software. One disadvantage of google reader is to read a news fully i have to open a new window. But in feedreader software i can read the news in same browser which is very very comfortable.

    Is there any option in google reader to read the news in same space rather than open a new tab when i click on the news ????

  20. "Is there any option in google reader to read the news in same space rather than open a new tab when i click on the news ????"

    Check out this greasemonkey script on

    Google Reader Preview

    It isn't perfect, but its pretty darn good I think. :)


  21. All I'm gonna say is: WWW.NETVIBES.COM

  22. quite interesting read. I would love to follow you on twitter. By the way, did any one know that some chinese hacker had busted twitter yesterday again.


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