“Just good enough” and why RSS readers might be skip-tech

POSTED IN future web | TAGS : , , , 14 July 2010

As I said, I don’t see QR codes ever being widely accepted in the UK, easier and lower impact methods of getting to the right web content have already started to take over. They’ll be skipped, be skip-tech, because easier to understand methods are “just good enough”.

This isn’t an isolated incident. The rise of the flip camera or the mp3, even the cassette tapes are the triumph of “just good enough” (see Wired 17.09). Sure, audiophiles want lossless FLAC files, gold cables, valve speakers but it’s niche activity — better yes, but a better than most people neither need nor really care about enough to put in the extra time or money.

I’ve been thinking that RSS, at least direct use of RSS by people subscribing in readers might just be about to go the same way.

Attention profiling and algorithmic suggestion aren’t great, yet — but they’re getting better and combining with social search results (Google’s “results from your social circle” and packages of social links like Twitter Times are good) will soon produce a news feed that is good enough for most purposes.

I teach search and RSS skills a lot. I spent a good couple of hours with Multistory this morning helping the team get to grips with the technology, the ideas of search feeds, sharing RSS items with each other, using the technology to its best effect; we were looking at how to to a great job at being aware of everything they can be on the be to do with their work. But we professional connectors, the researchers, the obsessives in our fields will be niche — for the things we care about most we’ll work hard but for other stuff, “just good enough” will be good enough.

The new BBC news site layout makes the actual RSS feeds for the sections (as opposed to the explanation of what the technology is)  much harder to find,  it’s pushed into the browser detection removing it from being a piece of obvious or mainstream tech.

I no longer subscribe to any news feeds from the mainstream national press, already the combination of social links and search for the topics I know I care about is “good” enough for the things I’m interested in about to find me “just enough” of the time. Those talking about “the death of RSS” for the last couple of years, have meant that people were getting their timely links through social means, that’s not as good, but for the people who’ve stopped using RSS readers it’s “just good enough”.

I’m not sure of the format that this “just good enough” reader will take — design it this instant and perhaps it would look like one for the experimental layouts the New York Times has been working on, or perhaps the Guardian’s iPhone app. Make a personalised feed that measured your attention, factored in the news and added the best from your social graph (well enough )and pump it direct to you via Twitter or wherever else you spend your online life and it’d take off like a shot. It wouldn’t be enough for everyone, or provide enough on each of everyone’s interest — but “just good enough” for most, most if the time it’d be.

I saw Eli Pariser talk recently and he wowed the crowd by showing the difference between “your Google” and other peoples’ — even if you’re not signed in,  search results are personalised based on a ton of factors (location, cookies of previous searches etc). The worry that hits people is that this may mean that searchers aren’t exposed to opinions from outside of their social graphs. Our “just good enough” reader has the same problems — but there’s no reason that the algorithm for it shouldn’t be open, so at least you would have the opportunity to be aware of the bargain you were making.

Most may not care, “just good enough” will be good enough and the idea of RSS as a front-facing mainstream technology may well be gone.


  1. Moxy Park says:

    Interesting. I’ve not looked through my RSS reader in a long while, purely because I find skimming through reams of content that doesn’t feel relevant, to be a bit of a wast of time. I get my news from Twitter, and thus my “social circle” :)

  2. Mike says:

    You might be correct about the human-readable RSS feeds becoming not read by, errr, humans, but certainly RSS and more likely Atom feeds will become more widely spread in machine-readable forms. It is a great lightweight broadcast-listener solution for distributed and federated environments where state changes need to be distributed. In such and environment we may see the RSS/Atom feed presented in a human-readable form but after a machine transformation of the data (or information) objects perhaps using personalisation or other factors. Linked-data does not usurp the broadcast needs for timely updating in federations and I suspect we will still be using this “good enough” lightweight technology for some time to come.

  3. [...] A few posts ago I postulated that for most people, for most types of ‘news’ algorithms based around attention and the social graph may well be almost good enough to replace the idea of subscribing to RSS feeds of content directly. [...]