A plan to deal with my feed reader problem

September 5, 2010

I have a feed reader problem, one that has long ago reached epic levels: in practice, I'm not actually really reading feed entries. For years, Liferea has been telling me that I have thousands of unread entries and I have been ignoring them. I think it's time to declare feed reader bankruptcy (which is much like email bankruptcy) and deal honestly with the results.

(This will be a bit traumatic, because I'm somewhat obsessive about some things. It hurts to consciously and deliberately throw away unread entries.)

In thinking about this, I have realized that I have two sorts of feeds that I follow: casual reading feeds, that I keep around so that I have something to browse when I'm feeling bored and want to poke at their topic, and feeds that I am strongly interested in and want to read all or almost all of, even if it takes me a while. If I'm being honest about it, almost all of the feeds I currently have in Liferea are casual reading feeds (which is one reason I keep not reading them).

So here's my current plan for dealing with all of this:

A certain amount of the casual feeds are simply going to be discarded (a process that I've already started); I'll trust that anything worth reading that they produce will show up on the usual link sources that I browse (such as Hacker News). The rest of them will go into Google Reader, because Google Reader will quietly expire old unread entries for me. Throwing away old entries to keep the volume manageable is exactly the behavior I want for casual feeds.

(Google Reader is also better for casual browsing because I can use it from anywhere. Liferea is tied to a particular machine.)

My important feeds will stay in Liferea where I can exert more control over them, for example deciding exactly when they expire (or don't). I will probably also find some feeds that are more convenient to read in Liferea than in Google Reader. If I do this right I will have only a relatively small number of feeds in Liferea, and they will generally not have many unread entries.

I'm not sure that this will actually work, but I'll have to see how it goes. Something certainly needs to change; thousands of unread feed entries that just keep expiring off the bottom of feeds just don't work.

(They 'work' in one sense, but they create a kind of mental pressure that makes me avoid having much to do with them. Right now I avoid entire categories of feeds in Liferea because of all of the unread entries.)

PS: if I'm being honest with myself, I should probably throw away at least half of my casual feeds. Many of them were added because they looked sort of interesting, way back in my early days of feed reading enthusiasm when I felt that I had a lot more time for this. Rather than putting them in Google Reader only to ignore them, I should just save them in a file somewhere.

(This reminds me rather vividly of mailing lists, and if I go far enough back, Usenet. I went through much the same pattern with them that I am going through with feeds now, and if I got into something like Twitter I suspect that I would go through the same pattern with it too.)

Written on 05 September 2010.
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Last modified: Sun Sep 5 00:30:37 2010
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