Feed Oriented Browsing

RSS ImageHow do you browse the internet? It’s a funny question to ask really, but you’d be surprised at the different ways people will respond.

  • I look at the front page of Digg
  • I check my friends new Del.icio.us bookmarks
  • I search
  • I visit my bookmarks and see if there is anything new of interest
  • I browse my friends profiles on Facebook
  • I check MySpace updates
  • I watch top rated YouTube videos
  • I see whats new at CollegeHumor

There are many many many more ways to browse the internet and far too many to list here.

I use none of these and yet all of them. I prefer to call how I browse the web Feed Oriented Browsing or FOB for short. It’s something I’ve only begun doing this year. As my final post in 2007 I thought I’d share it.

What is Feed Oriented Browsing? It is a way of browsing the web that gives you the most relevant and up to date information at your fingertips without looking for it.

How can I get the information I want without looking for it? It’s not as hard as you might think. Instead of checking if there’s new information, you are told that a website you found interesting in the past has a new update.

Everytime you go to a website you already make a relatively quick decision on whether or not the site contains relevant information for you or not. It could be the information is not immediately useful but could be used as a reference in the future or it could be the answer you’re looking for right now. Normally, in these cases you would bookmark it either in your browser or using a web service such as del.icio.us.

Bookmarks are stale and not useful. We all know that technology in general changes so fast what you know today is outdated tomorrow. Since Bookmarks point to a particular page this means that information is likely to be outdated by more relevant and better information somewhere else. Does this mean you should just forget the site and move on? No! Your mind has already made the determination that the site contains relevant and useful information. Chances are the website you found is likely to share new information that you will find interesting and relevant in the future. This is the power of Feed Oriented Browsing. Instead of bookmarking a stale link to the site, add the site’s feed to your Reader. If the site doesn’t have a feed create one using a service like feed43 or feeditiy. Often times the feed will contain items that does interest you and items that don’t interest you. If that’s the case use a tool like feedrinse or yahoo pipes to clean up the feed so that it best matches your interests.

The real benefit of FOB appears after you’ve built up a good set of feeds. At that point you can stop browsing the old way all together. Instead use your reader to find new relevant sites. If you like discovering new feeds and new sites still, rather than searching for common phrases all the time, subscribe to a feed of your search. You can easily do this on sites like Digg and Del.icio.us. You can subscribe to searches or tags so that if a new item appears in that list you’ll get notified. If you’re using FOB correctly it will be rare that you need to leave your reader except to discover a new feed and even that is possible within some readers.

Observe your browsing habits. If the first thing you do after leaving your reader is visit the front page of Digg then it’s time to subscribe. If you then hop over to your friends blog to see if he posted last night… it’s time to subscribe.

It takes time to build up a good list of feeds. Making the switch to FOB doesn’t happen over night. You begin the process by visiting your reader first every day. Only once you’ve read all the items or marked them as read should you move on to the other sites you use.

Once you adapt this method of browsing the web it will truly change your web experience. A few months ago I read a study that made a bold claim that 2 out of every 3 ‘clicks’ on the internet were wasted because the content at the other end of the link had not yet been updated (I cannot speak to the accuracy of the numbers but the point is clear regardless). Meaning if someone checked a particular website three times in a day chances are that the website would only be updated one of those times. What a waste!

Often times you search the web to find the answer to a particular problem. You find an excellent resource that tells you exactly how to solve your problem and then forget all about that site again. If you have the same problem in the future you can always get back to that site by searching again right? Well, maybe. Search indexes change and you may or may not be able to remember the search you used. However; If you subscribed to the feed for the site, that piece of information will be in your reader and if you use a reader (such as Google Reader) that allows you to tag and search items it will be incredibly easy to find.

In addition to finding old pieces of information, it is likely that the site that had that great piece of information for you in the past will have more great information for you in the future. If you subscribe you’ll see new information posted by them whenever they update which means you’ll get new information before you even realize you need it.

if you subscribe to every feed you come across won’t your reader get so bloated its unusable? Yep. That’s why you need to be selective in your feeds. Determine whether or not the site has relevant information to you or not before subscribing. To find out if the site has other useful information browse for a moment and see if any other articles besides the one you’re looking at are interesting. If not then don’t subscribe simply use del.icio.us or digg or some other such service to bookmark it. You have already subscribed to your bookmark feed right? If so then that one article will show up in your reader and nothing else from the site.

Once you subscribe to a feed your job is not done. That feed needs to satisfy your interest. If it doesn’t then it needs to go. I give every feed I subscribe to one month. If i don’t receive at least one more piece of relevant and interesting information within one month of subscribing then that feed is gone. Additionally if the ratio of articles posted to articles I find interesting is too low I either attempt to clean it up with feedrinse or yahoo pipes or simply unsubscribe.

Hopefully Feed Oriented Browsing will get you started on the road to a better web experience. It has certainly helped me.

If you’re struggling with feeds and need to learn a bit more before you dive in check out this great video presentation entitled RSS in Plain English. RSS is a type of feed.

If you found this post interesting you might like to subscribe to my syndication category in which I try to post tips to help you deal with all the available feeds out there.

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