One of the metaphors I find myself moving more and more to of late is “Aggregator as Textbook.” Google Reader is the place (along with Twitter of late) that I head to first every day when I open up my computer, and on an average day, I end up going back there at least 4 or 5 times. It’s become an important part of my learning process, because my daily study almost always starts and flows from what’s collected there.
That being the case, I’ve been thinking more and more about my own use of RSS, and trying to reflect on the choices I make in my aggregator. Frankly, I am still amazed that so relatively few people (not just educators) have made RSS a part of their practice, but I wonder if it doesn’t have something to do with how disruptive a technology it is when you really think about it. It changes the traditional information structures in fundamental ways, and it forces us to be much more involved with the information we consume. I’m no longer just a reader; I’m an editor who is constantly at work in the process of finding feeds to read, determining what’s relevant, trying to connect ideas and patterns, making decisions as to what to do with all of the information I come across.
The technical side to RSS is not that difficult. But I constantly wonder if I’m “doing RSS well” in the way I use it. So, anyway, here are six things I wonder about my own use of what I think is the most powerful of all of these technologies.
What’s my optimum number of feeds to read? I’ve gone between 25 and 250, and now at about 60 I’m still not sure if that’s the “right” number. And it’s not just a time factor that determines that number, although that has more to do with it than anything else. The scope of topics and a diversity of views also has a lot to do with it.
How do I not become “married” to the feeds I already have? It would be easy to keep the 60 or so feeds that I have for a long time, but I’m not sure that’s the best strategy. As new voices appear, as my interests shift, I need to be willing to let some old voices go. That’s exceedingly hard, at times, because I don’t want to miss anything, and because I feel connected to those teachers on many levels.
Do I rely too much on a handful of feeds? I’ll admit, while I struggle reading every feed every day, there are a half dozen or so that I try not to miss. I think of these as the ones that do the best job of culling out the important ideas of the day. In many cases, these people are reading many of the same sources I am. I wonder if this makes it even more difficult to read more widely.
How many individual pieces of information can I realistically make sense of? There are days when I could easily find 50 or so interesting, relevant posts or links to sites, and I wonder if that’s always such a good thing. If I were to try to process all of that, will the best filter up?
How do I best organize the information that is most useful? I have a del.icio.us account, and I stow away some snippets of things in various spots. I tag and tag and tag. But this is my most difficult struggle. I’ve yet to find a really effective way of processing all the ideas and links that make it easy to return to later.
Should I read ideas, or should I read people? Stephen Downes advocates for the former, and I can understand why. It’s the concept, the exchange of ideas that is important, not the person so much. Still, I find it very difficult to separate the two, and I do think that knowing the person through the writing adds context to the ideas. But, again, reading people also tends to limit the scope and diversity of the ideas, I think.
Without question, my aggregated text requires much more intellectual sweat than the traditional form. And that’s actually why I want my own kids to become adept at writing their own texts around the topics they find engaging. I’ve put together Pageflakes pages for my kids built on RSS feeds about horses and the Phillies as a way to get them started. But that’s just the first step.
So, I wonder, what do you wonder about RSS?
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