Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Does RSS affect the way we read?

I have a few aggregators on my laptop but I still largely read through the browser. The last couple of days I’ve been asking whether that is because old dogs can’t learn new tricks or if it represents some sort of preference. I’m not sure, but I want to offer up a related question. If a document has a bunch of links in it, do you read the document through or do you branch off? If you branch off, what triggers that? And do you care to know where you are when you read something.

The last couple of months I’ve done more “Web Surfing” than I’ve done in quite a while and that is because the blogging has opened up new outlets for me, my level of knowledge in some of these areas is nil and the surfing seems like a way to get caught up quickly. But I don’t have a scientific method for this. A lot is determined by whim. This person makes an interesting point, so I want to read a few more things by this person. Somebody makes a point that seems contentious and I want to see how others line up on that point. Google is an extremely important tool in doing this. You have to start somewhere and Google gives that starting point.

On the other hand, there are some tried and true sources like the NY Times, where I regularly read the Op-Ed and a few front page stories, the Chronicle, which the last few days has been a bit weird because the digest has not come first thing in the morning but usually is there to go through before the first cup of coffee is consumed, ESPN just to do a quick check on the Yankees and anything in the US Open, and then a variety of other things that come from friends who have emailed links or PDFs.

Time is scarce and the tried and true sources probably are more efficient uses of my time than the surfing. But for getting diversity of point of view and learning new things, the surfing is far better. I haven’t taken to read one other persons blog on a regular basis, but I now do look at 15 or 20 blogs with a somewhat regular somewhat impromptu approach.

The question I want to get at is how much discovery do we do for new sources of things to read and whether we let those people with a penchant for reading and acting as aggregators determine our own discovery process, or if we put in effort to control that ourselves.

My sense is that aggregator software inhibits discovery somewhat. It makes finding the content that one subscribes to remarkably easy and it is no trouble whatsoever to subscribe to more stuff than one could possibly read. If you subscribe to Slashdot, that in itself is a career just trying to keep up. Then there is Wired, Slate, and a bunch of other things, I feel I should be reading but I know I can’t process it all. And I should mention the Educause Periodicals, the ECAR studies, the CNI pieces, …I’m getting a headache.

So here’s a little plug for surfing, reading the posts of individuals, quite possibly people who don’t have the credentials otherwise, but who when one stumbles on their site, one finds interesting stuff. This is, perhaps, an anti information literacy view, but it is a way to find perspective that won’t come through in the subscription approach. At least that’s the way it seems to me.


ALJ said...

i generally find I add new sites everyday (as you do) and then spend time trying to figure out a good way to organize it all. what I think is important, and a good tool for rss readers, is the ability to do clippings like bloglines does. hence i can accumulate a list of things I'm interested in. As for it taking down the level of discovery, I'm not so sure. a blind search on google has a tendency to bring up a lot of bullshit pages that I don't need. on the other hand reading one e-learning site, then linking to another, then adding that etc seems more productive. the question is, when do you find new avenues entirely if your stuck in a world of themed RSS feeds.


Lanny Arvan said...

Thanks for the comment. You've definitely got the right question.

My only other comment is that I hope supervisors take a long term view of their staff who spend some of their time surfing. It may not yield immediate dividends, but it quite possibly could be productive longer term.

Brent said...

I think RSS is a life saver. I spend alot of time on the web and i think that RSS is definately changing the way we look at sites.

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