My Life As An RSS Junkie

RSS Junkie

My name is Kirk, and I have a problem. I’m an RSS addict.

Like most addictions, my problem started as innocent experimentation. I began dabbling in RSS years ago when it was still a relatively new technology. I told myself it was a better way to keep up with the news. I rationalized that I’d save hours daily by using RSS to take a more focused approach to online reading and research. A few minutes with my feed reader was supposed to be like an hour or more of surfing the hundreds of websites I try to keep up with regularly.

Well, that’s the way it was supposed to be. How was I to know that RSS would turn into the pervasive and addictive social menace that it’s become today?

In retrospect, I probably should have known better. I have a history of information addiction. Way back in the mid-80s (pre-web, of course), I was program director at KFSR. At some point, we decided it would be a good idea to subscribe to a wire service. One day some nice men installed a UPI wire machine in our office. This magic box was a souped-up dot-matrix printer connected to a dish antenna mounted on the roof. The machine received news updates beamed from the sky and printed them out in real time. Suddenly I had access to an unlimited supply of news with no intermediary.

It wasn’t long before I made excuses to go to the KFSR office after hours and on the weekends. I’d linger over the wire machine waiting for updates. What if something interesting came in? I’d be the first person to know. Unless the ink ran out or the paper jammed.

From this story, you can probably tell that I’m not the sort of person who should have access to a feed reader. At least not if I hope to be a productive member of society.

Things really started going downhill around the time I discovered FeedDemon. Damn that, Nick Bradbury! With FeedDemon, I was tracking nearly a thousand feeds a day. I’d focus on the topics I was most interested in by setting up watch lists. At first, I thought that FeedDemon was helping me manage my information addiction.

On the contrary, the problem was getting worse. I eventually realized that the more blogs I read, the more blogs I subscribed to. Each day I’d add a dozen new feeds to FeedDemon. It was a vicious circle. My feed reading began taking up larger chunks of my day.

Eventually, I came to my senses and realized that I had a problem. I had become overwhelmed by the sheer number of feeds I’d subscribed to. That’s when I stopped. I went cold turkey.

The end came around the time I switched from Windows to Mac. My decision to quit was partly supported by the fact that I had a hard time finding a Mac-based feed reader that I liked. I tried nearly every available aggregator, and none lived up to FeedDemon. I know many of you think highly of Net Newswire, but it doesn’t feel right.

Unfortunately, my experiment with RSS abstinence didn’t last long. It’s almost impossible to be a functional RSS addict in our society. RSS has become so pervasive there’s simply no way to escape it. Everywhere I look, I see those damn orange icons.

My return to RSS indulgence started innocently enough. At first, I plugged a few of my favorite feeds into MyYahoo. Eventually, I found myself subscribing to feeds in Firefox. “These are live bookmarks,” I told myself. “Entirely different concept.” But deep down inside, I knew they were the same old thing and that my RSS addiction was resurfacing.

As my collection of live bookmarks grew, I began grouping them in folders and sub-folders. At some point, they became so deeply nested they were almost impossible to use, and I found myself out on the street again, desperately looking for a reliable feed reader to give me the full-featured RSS fix I couldn’t live without.

I finally turned to Shrook. I’d experimented with it briefly in the early days of my transition to OSX. I know some Shrook detractors, but it comes the closest to replicating what I loved about FeedDemon. I like Shrook’s Smart Groups and the ability to synchronize my reading activity between multiple computers. I can start reading feeds on my desktop, then switch to my laptop later in the day, and Shrook will mark the feeds I’ve already read.

Lately, I’ve been hearing good things about Google Reader. As a Google beta application, it’s under active development and improving rapidly. I try it out periodically to see if it meets my needs, and I must admit it’s getting close. At some point, it may become my feed reader of choice. Fortunately, when that day comes, I know I can quickly transfer all of my feeds from Shrook by exporting them to an OPML file and then importing that into Google Reader.

In the meantime, I’m trying my best to manage my problem while maintaining a relatively normal and active life. Some days are harder than others (especially when there’s a Stevenote).

To be honest, I’m not sure there’s a chance I’ll ever fully recover. When all is said and done, I sort of like being an RSS junkie.

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