Friday, March 13, 2009

Thinking about my relationships with feeds

It wasn't so long ago that I began reading and using feeds (rss, atom), but today I see that feeds have totally changed the way I interact with the internet. For anyone who doesn't know the first thing about feeds, this short video from produced by Commoncraft and part of the 'in plain english' series should be of help.
For those of you who want the gist of a three-minute video without watching it, feeds take the old direction of internet reading:
me------>favorite sites
and reverse it:
me<------favorite sites.
I notice this simple reversal the most in how it has enabled me at long last to experience the joy/boredom/frustration/routine I had always noticed among my parents and others as they habitually worked through the morning paper. Sometimes the experience is relaxing, a gentle introduction to the day, think a cup of coffee and warm sunbeams streaming through the kitchen window. Sometimes you just don't have time to get around to reading and the experience breeds a certain kind of guilt as you see events piling up on your table. But the basic and overriding similarity is that news (or comics, or classifieds, or whatever) come to you.

If you still think of blogs (or whatever other word you might apply to periodic content delivered on the internet) as a hinterland, this is not the time or place for me to convince you of their importance and ubiquity, evan and especially compared to only four years ago. But I won't leave you empty handed. The Pew Research Center and Technocrati keep track of some of the raw numbers, and the same outfit that produced the above video also produced this little gem, another three-minute introduction, this time to blogs.
Getting back on topic, the main difference between my day-to-day experience with feeds as compared to 'reading the newspaper' is that this new newspaper is infinitely customizable, in both content and form. I can constantly choose what it is I'm reading, who it's coming from, how much of it I see at once, the medium in which it's presented, etc., etc.. The second difference is that even though the main arrow of interaction is:
me<------favorite sites
reading feeds is not a passive, one way street. Any item is an invitation to discussion in either the original context of creation (e.g. a comment feed attached to a blog post) or among any of the other distributed communities on the internet to which I belong. The extent of intercommunicative affordances of feed readers or aggregators (the user-side tech that does the work of presenting the content you subscribe to) themselves increases at an incredible pace. Just yesterday, my main reader Google Reader implemented a more robust method of holding these conversations. It's as if the newspaper included the watercooler as well.

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