More Effective Feed Reading

I want more from the information that's out there today. I want to spend less time hunting and gathering it, and more time acting on it. I want to find the information that gives me an edge. Most importantly, I want to avoid the "free shopping spree" pattern, where if I grab it all as I go, I may not get the most value for my time.

As I talk to more feed readers, I find there's patterns that work and patterns that don't. I'm a fan of starting with examples of "what's working" and "what's not" before building a new solution. The most common anti-pattern I found was "too many feeds, not enough time." The most effective pattern I found was a set of tuned and pruned feeds.

To fix my feeds, I used the following approach:

  1. Started with a clean slate.
  2. Figured out my objectives (what do I want to know? what would I do with the information?)
  3. Figured out my constraints (how much time and how many feeds?)
  4. Hunted and gathered for the most effective feeds.

To wipe my slate clean, I archived what I had. I had several hundreds of feed sources. I figured I could compare later, but I wanted to start fresh and lose potential baggage.

To figure out my objectives, I asked a simple question -- "what do I want to accomplish?" I figured listing the questions I need to answer with my feeds would be the most effective:

  • What are new ideas, insights or techniques I can use in my day to day?
  • What's going on in my immediate circle? (my stuff, friends, family, teams … etc.)
  • What are the influencers up to? (Business, tech, ... etc.)
  • What's the blogosphere and social software up to? (Technorati, Delicious, ... etc.)
  • What's going on in software engineering?
  • What new insights will change the world?
  • What's Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, IBM, and Apple doing?

    This created my map of what feeds I needed to add. I ended up surprised by how different my deliberate map was than my typical feed reading habbits. I didn't realize this until I had the map above to check against.

    Next, I figured out practical time and quantity constraints. I set a bar of 30 feeds and a max of 20 minutes reading time max for reading time. Talk about a true exercise in prioritization, considering I'm used to hundreds of feeds! I decided I want to trade lightweight and effective over exhaustive and a burden. Put it another way, I want to spend more time with the cream of the crop, and less time filtering the wheat from the chaff.

    As I hunted and gathered for feeds, I distinguish sources of news from sources of insight. I want both but I prioritize insight. I also looked for bloggers that take the time to distill information for some key areas, so that I don't have to. In some areas, I do my own distillations, in others, I want to leverage the network effect. As I hunted for feeds, I also kept the following guiding questions in mind:

  • How to minimize my time, while maximizing results?
  • How to cast a wide enough radar to see beyond what's right in front of me?
  • How to use checks/balances for the information I see?
  • How to keep a stream of information to build anticipation and foster innovation?

    This gave me a good baseline of feeds. It also put me in great shape to bring over some of my favorite feeds I had archived. It was easier to bring over just a handful of the best vs. sort and filter through everything I had.

    While this wasn't my first do-over, it was probably my most useful. I feel closer to the sources of information that I'm actually going to use, and less burdened by the noise. I'm going to test more tools and techniques for feed reading, so if you have any tips or techniques to share, I'd like to hear them.

  • Comments (6)

    1. Jonathan says:

      Do you wish to share your blog roll (minus personal/staff ones)

    2. Brett Romero says:

      Hi J.D.  This was a nice post to come across.  I’m working on a similar project.  I spend lots of time during the day reading feeds, subscribing to feeds, bookmarking sites and adding notes about them.  Usually I’m building up resources for different types of projects.  One problem was all of the different apps or websites available to aggregate everything didn’t suite allowing me to organize all of this information.  I really wanted one space to work with all of these sources easily.  

      That’s how I started SwiftPad.  It is going to allow doing searches across all bookmarks, notes, forum watches and RSS feeds.  The goal is to orginize and find information quickly on all of the resources you have and continue to gather on the Internet.  Helping people prioritorize is another theme I’d like to the app to eventually have.  


      Brett Romero

    3. J.D. Meier says:

      Jonathan –

      I’ll share a subset of my roll and highlight some points:

      – Channel9:

      – Delicious:

      – Digg – New Popular:

      – Microsoft Watch:

      – Mini-Microsoft:

      – MSDN:

      – O’Reilly Radar:

      – ProBlogger.Net:

      – Reuters – Top News:

      – Technorati: WTF:


      – TheServerSide.Net:

      First I browse Technorati’s Top 100 Blogs to find blogs I don’t know:  This let me very quickly find common themes and circles, and unique value, before picking some gems.  I added Delicious, Digg and Techorati’s WTF to keep a pulse and cast a wide net on social patterns.  TheServerSide is a tech community that hits close to home with patterns and middleware.  Reuters is a source for news sites.  O’Reilly Radar helps me keep an interesting tech pulse.  I’m on a 30 Day Improvement Sprint for blogging, so I added ProBlogger.Net.

      The bulk of my feeds are people, either distillers, insight or meaning makers.  I’m experimenting building better feeds with tags, pipes, … etc.

      Hope that helps!

    4. Darren asks Which Feed Reader is Best? I was going to just add a comment, but it quickly turned into

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    6. Justin says:



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