I like RSS, But I Have Reservations.

by William Grosso

Many people have noticed that the web is growing in total size (as measured in the total number of pages). Very few people have publicly noticed that the web is also growing in effective size, because people are reading more web pages. I think we're all reading more web pages than we were reading a year ago, and we're reading more web pages than we expected to (that is, if you had polled people a year ago, and asked "How many web pages will you look at on July 31, 2003," I think the answer would have been a significant underestimate).

This is actually a problem.

Better minds than mine have noticed the incredible pace at which information flows by in the modern world. We're deluged in information. It's hard to cope with the volume, it's hard to make connections between the various bits, and it's very very hard to figure out what's important.

Hell, I can't even keep up with the J2EE specs.

My "favorites" list in Internet Explorer has over 1,000 websites. There are 20 top level categories.
The "weblogs" category, which is a top-level category, has approximately 100 weblogs, most of which change at least once a day (and most of which I visit at least twice a month).

This is too much information. Things flow by, they get registered in fleeting glimpses, and then they're gone, leaving only a tiny subconscious wake to show they've ever been there.

And then along comes something like RSS. If you don't want to read that FAQ, here's the short version: RSS is like a card-catalog for the web. It's an XML feed that tells you a little about a web page, including when it last changed. And aggregators like NewsMonster take full advantage of this, to let you monitor the web as it's changing.

Purists will argue about which version of RSS is the right one, and which one they should use. There's a faction out there right now that's creating a fork in the RSS universe, allegedly because RSS isn't quite flexible and powerful enough (but it's happened before and most people are yawning and saying whatever).

That's mostly noise. Here's what's really true and important about RSS: It increases the rate at which information flows by and it decreases the number of times you read a web page twice.

RSS makes the web more addictive; it helps make sure we only get new-to-us information, and that we get that information when it's fresh.

RSS is impressive; it's a simple spec that makes a lot of new functionality possible.

I'm just not sure that the side effect, of accelerating the rate at which we turn into into information junkies, is necessarily a good thing.

Seen any other neat technologies that you have reservations about?


2003-08-02 20:15:50
What the heck?
What the heck is a "software activist"? Save the bits?
2003-08-02 20:39:34
Re: What the heck?
I suppose that's a good question. It is a vague term. In my case, it means that, in addition to designing software at startups, I'm also active in the local software development community. I ran SDForum's Java SIG for three years before deciding to focus on emerging technologies (the emerging technologies SIG). I also serve on SDForum's Board of Directors.

You can find out more about SDForum at www.sdforum.org. We're a non-profit organization of approximately 1,700 software industry professionals; we specialize in providing information about current and nascent technologies to our membership (primarily through our 15 SIGS).

And, of course, I also give talks at local colleges and universities, and have written numerous articles and books.

But enough about me. What do you think about RSS?

2003-08-03 13:03:30
Think Beyond the Link
Have you tried Feedster yet? Once you search for a keyword, you can subscribe to that query - and be updated whenever new hits are culled.

For end users, it's an easier way to get the information they're looking for. For bloggers, it's a better way to keep track of their conversations. For publishers, it's yet another opportunity to keep their audience in touch. For developers, it's another way to use and interpret data. For marketers, it's a way to maximize their business relationships.