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Why People Don’t Read (feeds, that is)

I am an avid reader of RSS feeds. The ability to passively monitor lots of news in the world is of great use to me and I don’t know how I would stay on top of news if I didn’t have a few trusty RSS readers to get me through the day. Despite the benefits of RSS and feed readers, I have a surprising number of friends in high technology who do not read feeds and have not gotten their heads around why RSS and feed readers are valuable.

The most common problem I hear from folks is that discovering content is too hard. Where does a newbie go to get new feeds? How do you know what’s worth reading? I continue to be amazed that the leading feed readers out there haven’t done more to help feed consumers. There are two things out there that seem obvious to me but don’t appear to have been broadly implemented.

1. Collaborative filtering – No matter how many feeds you read, there is always room to discover new, interesting feeds based on your interests. It seems to me that it should be a fairly straightforward exercise to look across multiple people’s feedrolls and figure out what feeds to suggest to someone based on profile similarity. For example, if you read Om Malik’s blog you might like to read TechCrunch. Simple stuff like this would be helpful and I imagine not very difficult to implement. Collaborative filtering is a pretty well-worn path and there are plenty of web-based feed readers out there who probably have the data to do it. Hopefully Share Your OPML is a step in the right direction.

2. Starter packs – I know that Newsgator is working on things like this, but I would have expected more of a groundswell around this kind of functionality. One of the hardest things about finding good feeds content to read is knowing where to start. If you aren’t a Silicon Valley geek, it can be hard to know where to start. Feed readers are still at the “training wheels” stage — people still need some help to get started and get value out of these products.

There is clear some room to move the needle here by making it easier for feed newbies to get going.