Category Archives: aggregators

useful rss

Hi. I’m Jesse, the latest member to join the staff here at the Institute. I’m interested in network effects, online communities, and emergent behavior. Right now I’m interested in the tools we have available to control and manipulate RSS feeds. My goal is to collect a wide variety of feeds and tease out the threads that are important to me. In my experience, mechanical aggregation gives you quantity and diversity, but not quality and focus. So I did a quick investigation of the tools that exist to manage and manipulate feeds.
Sites like MetaFilter and Technorati skim the most popular topics in the blogosphere. 62191942_5ef7f2ded3_m.jpgBut what sort of tools exist to help us narrow our focus? There are two tools that we can use right now: tag searches/filtering, and keyword searching. Tag searches (on Technorati) and tag filtering (on Metafilter) drill down to specific areas, like “books” or “books and publishing.” A casual search on MetaFilter was a complete failure, but Technorati, with its combination of tags and keyword search results produced good material.
There is also the Google Blog search. As Google puts it, you can ‘find blogs on your favorite topics.’ PageRank works, so PageRank applied to blogs should work too. Unfortunately it results in too many pages that, while higher ranked in the whole set of the Internet, either fail to be on topic or exist outside of the desired sub-spheres of a topic. For example, I searched for “gourmet food” and found one of the premier food blogs on the fourth page, just below Carpundit. Google blog search fails here because it can’t get small enough to understand the relationships in the blogosphere, and relies more heavily on text retrieval algorithms that sabotage the results.
Finally, let’s talk about aggregators. There is more human involvement in selecting sites you’re interested in reading. This creates a personalized network of sites that are related, if only by your personal interest. The problem is, you get what they want to write about. Managing a large collection of feeds can be tiresome when you’re looking for specific information. Bloglines has a search function that allows you to find keywords inside your subscriptions, then treat that as a feed. This neatly combines hand-picked sources with keyword or tag harvesting. The result: a slice of from your trusted collection of authors about a specific topic.
What can we envision for the future of RSS? Affinity mapping and personalized recommendation systems could augment the tag/keyword search functionality to automatically generate a slice from a small network of trusted blogs. Automatic harvesting of whole swaths of linked entries for offline reading in a bounded hypertext environment. Reposting and remixing feed content on the fly based on text-processing algorithms. And we’ll have to deal with the dissolving identity and trust relationships that are a natural consequence of these innovations.