The digital age was suppose to elevate us of many of the frustrations we found in the ‘every-day’. Access to information was to be at our finger tips, communication barriers would be thinned, education would be available to everyone, world hunger would be a thing of the past … but it was not to be. In fact some would argue that the digital age has brought about more frustration, more confusion, and obscured much of that ‘information’ that we were to gain so much from.
The internet enabled regular people to share their own knowledge with everyone else … but what happens when 6 billion people share their thoughts at once? Anyone see Bruce Almighty as he tried to “manage” in incoming prayer requests?
Lately I have tried using the RSS subscription feeds to filter the incoming information bombardment. These feeds are generated by a number of different news organizations as well as a number of personal blogs that I attempt to read … somewhat regularly. The intention was: ‘I now will only have to wade through the “new” updates and ignore those sites that have not been updated recently.’ This was suppose to “save time”. What ended up happening was that I would be notified constantly of updates – and if I waited for any length of time the updates would be piled up. It almost became more of a distraction than an assistant … but it was still a more powerful way to sort the information than going to each web page individually. But the process did get me thinking … to the point of discussing some of it with Krishen over lunch a couple weeks back.
Today, with the release of NewsFire v0.3, I find some of my ideas in the wild (there goes the pet project). It brings a new feature previously seen in iTunes and iPhoto to RSS … Smart Feeds (aka Smart Lists, aka Smart Albums) . The feature is quite basic really, it is a stored search of your current RSS feeds that is constantly being updated (as if it were a feed itself).
Since I have been using NewsFire as my RSS client, I am not aware of this feature being available in any other RSS clients but those that don’t have it will be adding it soon. However, this feature is also only the first step – there are a couple future additions that I would like to see:
(1) Subscription categories – once you start adding feeds for all your favorite blogs, news articles, companies, etc … it becomes a mess to sort through them.
(2) Ability to hide subscriptions from the main notification systems. I don’t want to remove them as I still want them to be ‘searched’ by the smart feeds. And I would like the ability to ‘browse’ them once in a blue moon. This would help keep the distractions to a minimum while keeping you up-to-date.
(3) Ability to search other searches. This way I can combine searches more effectively. (This would benefit from the ability to hide feeds – as you may desire to hide some of the “builder” smart feeds)
(4) Ability obtain the search results from a remote computer — possibly connected to a service that maintains a subscription to hundreds of sites. This would allow you to gain access to articles and sites that you have never heard of before. (There would have to be a simple “block site” feature so you could quickly avoid future articles by authors you don’t enjoy reading)
(5) Most important, be able to base the ‘smart feed’ searches off the articles that you have “read” (possibly based on your click through to the full article). This way the RSS client can learn from what you are reading and thus keep the notifications relevant. Think of something like Mail’s junk mail filtering – just working the opposite way.
These are just a couple quick ideas on how to improve a maturing “killer app”. The best way to manage this new onslaught of information … filter it.