20 July 2010

Don't Stop Believing

Listening to: Janelle Monae, "Dance or Die." You've probably been reading about Ms. Monae everywhere recently, I know I have (in the unlikeliest of places too). I thought she came out a few years ago but turns out that was just an EP. Her debut album is garnering rave reviews and in an effort to re-jump on the wagon, I'm giving her stuff lots of spins. Dance or Die is so far my favorite, perhaps influenced by the mini-appearance of Saul Williams. And if you haven't seen Janelle's Tightrope video and the shuffle dancing, you should probably get to it. I mean, it's been months since it was big you know?

A few months ago I was pushing the magic of Google Reader on everyone. If you still aren't using it, well, what can I do? Today I'm here to talk about Reader bloat, a problem that affects everyone on some level or another. Organizing your Reader is a huge task, similar to cleaning up your MP3 collection. A task like this can literally take days and if you're anal like me, once you get started you can't stop. Periodically I try to do a spring computer life cleaning but I've somehow managed to let my Reader grow to epic proportions with no design or control. That had to stop. I could literally waste hours of my life cruising through my Reader, starring items for more in-depth reading, and then reposting stuff on my Tumblr.

When I returned from Europe a few weeks ago, my Reader was easily into the few thousands. After thinking about it a moment, I simply hit "mark all as read" and got back down to zero. What did I miss out from all those thousands of links and articles? I guess I'll never know will I? Fundamentally my life is probably unchanged but I do feel like it's important to keep on top of some news and events. Having a svelte, precision orientated Reader is the way to achieve success. First off, let me recommend Reeder, a RSS reader that is available for $2.99 and makes reading feeds on your iPhone that much faster. While it's not a significantly different experience from using the generic Safari Google Reader site, it is worth purchasing if you're a heavy RSS consumer.

Having said that, let's look at the challenge ahead of me. As of yesterday morning I had over 800 blogs or websites I was subscribed to. Eight freaking hundred. No human can go through that many things and stay on top of it. My immediate goal was to trim that number by half. The biggest problem I had was that I was a feed addict. I'd easily add five new feeds a day, anything that caught my eye and might be worth following. Sure I used a "temporary" folder to try to filter what eventually made it through but I wasn't diligent about keeping the walls up. New feeds would get tossed in without any review process.

Well, my friend Chris showed me this article about Patrick Rhone's RSS system and it was much needed. I love lists, I love ranking things, I love figuring out what should be ahead of what. Clearly I needed to reorganize my RSS feeds around this structure. Roll out the red carpet for some feeds, back of the line for the others. The problem was I needed to separate those hundreds of feeds into their respective subject matters first. My broad categories prior to this reorganization was "people, entertainment, writing/books, and geek." That wasn't going to cut it. Before I could figure out which feeds were my a-list, b-list, and so on, I wanted to tag my feeds topically.

Somehow I decided to go from four categories to like twenty. Overkill but Google Reader doesn't have sub-folders and I figured I might as well slice as thinly as possible. So my four folder system transformed into: People, Friends, Moblogs, Opinion, Art, Asian, Sports, Movies & TV, Music, Digital, Games, Comics, Books, Publishing, Writers, YA, SF, Friends (defunct), My Stuff, and finally Probation. What's the difference you might ask between say, books and publishing? Well some blogs talk about upcoming books, feature reviews and the like, while some blogs are just about the industry or how to get published. In fact, I might have left out a category for "writing" focusing on sites with writing advice and such.

This pretty much covers most of the sort of blog and sites I'm into at the moment. Now to do a little cutting. Anything not updated in the past three months or so I cut. It was hard, I'm not gonna lie, killing feeds that I'd hoped would update. I mean, that's the beauty of RSS, you don't need to be around every day watching for an update. Just throw in the RSS and be alerted when a post goes up. I couldn't bring myself to eliminate my friends' blogs, so I made a folder for their defunct blogs, just in case someone revives one and I need to send a quick "Welcome back!" email. I know, I have an unhealthy relationship with the past and how it intersects with hope. I'm working on it.

After all this work guess how many feeds I'm only down to? 587. That's right. I'm nowhere near my goal and after going through and being a crazy person and making sure the naming structure for each individual feed was consistent I've lost all steam and motivation. I'll have to rest knowing that a system is in place and I'll whittle my RSS collection to a manageable number soon. You'd think I learned my lesson with Reader after watching my Delicious tags go all wild and woolly earlier. But no, I never learn. Don't you make that same mistake.