Beyond filter failure: the downfall of RSS

“It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure.”
Clay Shirky

Last week i decided to replace my RSS reader from Feedly to InoReader. Both are a solid solution for feed consumption with advanced features that replaced what used to be Google Reader. After subscribing to Feedly Pro for over an year, the main reason for a change was not being able to edit my tags, which was critical if you use them a a secondary form of bookmarking (on a related note, i’ve also moved from delicious to Pinboard).

InoReader represented a fresh start for all my feeds, with a power user feature that allowed me to detect inactive or low activity feeds, cleaning up some of the 400+ subscriptions I had from the Google Reader days. One of these folders is Agencies and Studios, a bundle quite similar to the popular Twitter list i’ve built the past few years.

While cleaning up those feeds, i’ve realised that many web and advertising agencies that used to have RSS feeds no longer maintain it (or even bothered to create a proper feed) and even Google had their feeds broken.

This all happened in the same week where i’ve tried Inbox by Google, a new email experience that filters the most important messages into easy to digest bundles, coupled with productivity tools such as highlights and reminders.

The Daily Edition, the latest Flipboard feature

Add this to the crowded space that Facebook’s Newsfeed is becoming and to similar experiences on Twitter, Pinterest and the latest Flipboard, and i’ve suddenly realised that it’s becoming harder to get a pure stream of information.

What was once (on the golden days of blogging) an exchange of information based on open standarts is becoming a filtered experience based on algorithms that shape how we view the world and even how we feel. As a long time advocate of the open web, it’s hard for me to accept that the filters we’ve found to address the information overload problem are biased toward algorithms and do not take into account the network effects of the social web. There are a few exceptions: Nuzzel and even Medium’s newsletter take into consideration the social context, but nonetheless are partial views on what happened on those services.

It’s becoming increasingly harder to get unfiltered information straight from the sources (many sites have dropped RSS feeds), which seems counterintuitive when Google is giving more weight to recent information, something where RSS excels (with technologies such as pubsubhub).

I’m afraid the web/tech community has done a lousy job promoting RSS, and even people i consider tech savvy aren’t aware how to use RSS or how it would improve the way they consume information. Between a Facebook newsfeed shaped by commercial interests and a raw stream of information powered by RSS, i’d rather have the later.

At least i’d know it’s not filter failure, only too many feeds subscribed.