Pruning the Feeds

I like RSS feeds. They fill an ecological nich that none of the other social media can. Let me put it this way. There are sites that update pretty much daily — Slate, for example, or McClatchey — so if you check them once a day, you know what they have. Those, I put in a “Morning Papers” folder, for reading with my breakfast oatmeal. Then there’s sites that update continuously — Fark, or Reddit — and all I have to do is check in periodically. I put those on my speed dial for when I’m bored. Yes, a lot scrolls off the page between readings, but any individual item that I miss has a fairly low impact. At longer timescales, there are sites that update weekly, or twice a week. These go into the “Daily” folders, one for each day of the week. But suppose there’s a site that updates at longer intervals, or irregularly, or that has information you’d rather not miss due to scrolling, what then? That’s where an RSS feed comes in. If Girl Genius is late this week, or MegaTokyo is finally getting an update, or EurekAlert is pushing out 80 science press releases at a whack, they all show up in the feeds. Twitter isn’t a solution, due to noise and the scrolloff factor. Tumbler or Facebook are just places one can host a differently-enabled blog. So the feeds are important.

As a result, part of my OS upgrade travails involve updating my RSS feeds. One reason I still have Opera hanging around is because it’s such a good RSS feed manager. While I couldn’t find any information on migrating the feeds, I managed to find Opera’s feed index file on the old drive, and copy it over to the new, but (as with many cloning experiments) something went wrong with the details: all the feeds show up on the Manage Feeds panel, they just don’t do anything. I’ve had to convert the old file by hand, clicking on a feed, copying it to the “Add Feed” dialogue, and saving it. When I was done I deleted all the old feeds. This was a tedious way to do things, but it worked. Finally.

The experience might be described as Internet archaeology, sifting through the websites to see what has changed and what hasn’t. For example, there are blogs that have just dropped from sight, not updated for years. Sometimes the feed is still active (I get old articles), and sometimes it isn’t (I get a blank). And sometimes it points to articles that are no longer hosted where it says they are.

Sometimes, I know what happened to them. Perhaps there’s a screen making a formal announcement of closure, or maybe the last entry is a farewell. Or maybe I know from other sources. Sometimes the reasons are sad. A few examples:

AaronsWeb — a techno blog which hasn’t had an update since late 2012. This is understandable, because it was maintained by Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide at the instigation of the U.S. government, in January of last year.

Baghdad Burning — A description of life in Baghdad during the American occupation, from 2003-2007. Riverbend, a young Sunni woman, and her family left Iraq in 2007 and she made one update post that year, and another in 2013. As interesting as I found her writing, the life of a resettled refugee is less dramatic than life in a war zone. Her posts have been collected into two books, which I’m thinking of buying.

Groklaw — a superb resource that has ceased updating last year because the owner, PJ, could no longer stand to have her e-mail read by NSA.

Creating Passionate Users — a vibrant, insightful resource maintained by Kathy Sierra. In 2007 she was set upon by trolls, who made the usual hateful remarks, including death threats, and decided not to put up with their shit.

Those last two I will keep, in my Inactive folder, checking in periodically, just in case something wonderful happens.

There’s a large number of websites (mostly anime and comics) where the author declared a brief hiatus to [get married, get a job, take finals, recover from a medical condition,…] and then disappeared, never to be seen again. Sometimes they are comics that halted in mid-story. Sometimes there are comics that halt in mid-story, with no explanation. As for the anime, I’ve been reading reviews and commentary for about ten years now, and most of the dropped blogs were ones that started back during the ‘golden age’, which peaked about the time I found it. My guess is that the authors grew up and moved on. Maybe that will happen to me someday as well.

On my old machine I had an estimated 400 websites I was tracking via RSS feed. It’s easy to fall behind with that kind of a workload, and I had something over 13,000 unread messages. Not exactly unread. Read the titles and the summaries and said “I’ll save this and come back later”. And of course I never did. Much like those comics.

Having done a fairly intense triage, I am now at less than 300 websites (including a few I added), and just 500 unread messages. Most of the sites dropped essentially dropped themselves, by being inactive for two years or more. Others were ones that had changed format too much. One anime site was now mostly vid clips, and I’m not interested in vid clips. Another tech site had covered itself with popups and mouseovers.

What sites am I following now? Well, embarrassingly, the largest group (20%) is anime related sites, followed by comics (15%). Next comes work-related MIS and technology sites at 14%. A full 10% of the sites are currently inactive. The rest are things like cooking, news, politics, and gardening.

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