RSS hygiene and Google Reader

It used to be that Google’s RSS reader was a catastrophe, but it is now pretty good and pretty smart. Google has turned things around. I’ve switched to it two days ago. The UI is still trying a bit too hard for my taste, but I guess you have to account for the fact that it is still slightly experimental.

Oh! And can we, please, get over the round corners? I actually like rectangular shapes. The Web 2.0 look where everything is round and smooth is really a fad and we will look back on these Web designs, in five years, with a fair amount of disgust.

The really nice thing about Google Reader is that when you scroll down past an item, it marks it automatically as read. At least, this is the default behavior. I found that one annoying thing with most readers is how they either required me to manually marked items as read, or they used a “delay then mark read” approach. I much prefer the Google Reader approach.


In general, about RSS/Atom feeds, I have learn that you should not maintain more than 25 or so feeds. It is quite tempting, especially when you are bored or stressed out, to add more and more feeds. I find it is better to migrate and slowly change your list of feeds. Let us call this “RSS hygiene“. You don’t keep 50 books open on your desk, do you? You do not follow 50 TV shows, do you? You do not read simultaneously 50 novels, do you? Why is 25 a good number? Because, on an average day, you will have no more than 5 new posts to read, maybe 10 at the outmost.

One side effect of limiting yourself to few feeds is that you tend to go for quality. What about diversity? What about the long tail, you ask? I think you simply outgrow some of the feeds over time and will naturally replace them. If you are like me, your interests change over time and so will your feeds.

And this whole argument justifies the fact that “feed recommender systems” have never really picked up any steam. People don’t want lots of feed proposals, not most of the time. They want to carefully choose any new feed, and that is not something that can be done automatically.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

One thought on “RSS hygiene and Google Reader”

  1. 25 feeds? No, it’s not enough. I have 100 feeds in my Bloglines; 5 of them is for news, and I usually ignore them. I only check them every weekend. The other 95 feeds generate 20 items every day, and every morning I have around 20 articles to read, and I think it’s reasonable. Not every article is deserved to read carefully, but at least I can find two or three good articles, and they make my day.

    The number of the feeds doesn’t matter. The quality and the update frequency of the feeds are the important things.

    If you only read the 25 favorite feeds, it’s hard to get out of them. Sometimes you need to read beyond the 25 favorites, to find the long tail. Most of the long tail is not interesting, but you should keep reading the not-so-interesting part to find what is calling you 🙂

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