RSS in the news

There were two interesting articles on RSS published on “almost mainstream” news:

Steve Gillmor’s Rest in Peace, RSS


Dave Winer’s reply RSS is dead? My ass…

The interesting thing is that they approach the subject on two different ways and, of course, get to two different conclusions. I’ll let you read the articles and get your own conclusions.

I think both are right, and both are wrong at the same time. On one hand, what Steve Gillmor is saying that what RSS lacks is the community is right. RSS is a one-way street that only supports third-party distributed commenting (by using whatever your reader supports, like Google Reader that supports commenting, sharing with your friends, and flagging news as interesting). And that’s certainly a problem, as you lose people adding to your article.

However, I don’t think that centralizing everything around a twitter-like approach, or FriendFeed, actually solves the problem. Look at me right now, I’m technically commenting on two articles at the same time and adding my point of view (that has more than 140 characters). That doesn’t fit any of the two options.

I really like the concept of real-time that a short messaging system provides, but I also think that there is a need for other streams of information to be added based on your experience of what you like to hear about. So I want both, but I want both to work together as one. And add Facebook to the mix so everything becomes complete. I think of it as multiple dimensions working together:

Friendship: I do care what my friends are up to and worrying about. I don’t really matter to get noise from them like “I wished Illustrator would stop crashing”. But if you are just a person that from time to time has interesting thoughts to share, I don’t care about you getting a free KFC grilled chicken.
Internal growth: for the things I’m passionate about, I want to be able to get in-depth discussions about it. I care to know about what the people that I think have good ideas about the subject are talking about, and, as I find new sources of information, I want to be alerted when these sources provide more information.
Society need: We all need to know what is going on around us in the society. We shouldn’t hide from it, just because it seems boring and always the same. If you think something is boring, maybe for those things you just want a count of how many people are talking about it. For new things, you probably want to follow the development of it. So the system would be something like “alert! There is something new going on with…” and then you can select to “follow” the news (and maybe post a question about details you think are missing in the news) or just say “whatever… good to know, but I don’t care to get more details”

There is an interaction between everything. My friends might want to make sure I’m following a story that I might have thought it was not interesting enough for my free time and vice-versa. People from my interest group might migrate to becoming my friends. Things that are just news might become part of my “internal growth” interests.

The question that remains is how you can get to it in a distributed manner. Building one big silo that contains all the dimensions is probably not what we want. Depending on my interests, the features that I care about are different. For example, if I care about photography, a good photo cataloging and visualization is needed. If I care about electronics, I need to have access to schematics. If I care about shopping, it would be good to have links to places where I can buy the products or navigate through their features. I don’t think anybody can build a website that can handle all those use cases and still make it understandable.

Alerts on news and filtering is also very different than friend activities. For friends you care about dates and locations, and passing ideas. For news you care about classification of alerts and identification of story development. And actually it also has some features of the “interest” case above as different types of news probably require different interfaces to be able to efficiently understand and act on this news.

So what are the underlying elements that need to be combined? I can think of two main things:

1) People: we need a FOAF-like solution to identify people and be able to relate them across pages.
2) Subjects/interests: for you to be able to correctly alert on the things that I care about, you need to understand that I care about that. And as you are providing your interests in a separate website, having those being shared will certainly help.

Anyway, what started with a short discussion about two blog posts, ended up becoming this long article that I probably should spend more time thinking deeper about it. Actually, on the contrary, it smells like another project for me and I don’t want to have another one on my list of things to think about and never getting to it (I’ve been keeping those on Evernote and I’ve been pretty happy about the experience so far. I just wished they had a Blackberry app)

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