On using RSS

Lago has a thoughtful post on why he doesn’t use RSS for his own browsing. I have been using Bloglines for a couple of months now, and I think that Lago’s reasons for not using an aggregator are mostly right on.

I like to think that I still appreciate site design, because I don’t actually read sites via the interface; I click on through to the full site. However, I have noticed that using an aggregator sharply cuts back on the number of new sites that I read. I’m not only more selective about which entries I read at a given site, but I click fewer second-order links. Using an aggregator, as cool as it is on one level, narrows the scope of my browsing, and I’m ambivalent about that effect. On one hand, I spend my time reading sites that I know I like to read. On the other hand, the web is rendered boring, ossified. It gets harder to find new sites and new authors, and contrary to the idea that the aggregator keeps me caught up, it strangely feeds my idea that I’m missing something. (As an aside, in The Shockwave Rider, John Brunner builds on precisely this kind of paranoia, vividly imagining information paranoia long before the web made it real. Well, at least to me.)

Also, as Lago mentions, aggregators like Bloglines don’t leave a meaningful referrer. I don’t know who reads my site via an aggregator, or how they get here; likewise, readers of my own site are ghosts whose ties to me aren’t visible. I really miss this aspect of browing, and even mentioned it to the folks at Bloglines: How cool would it be if the aggregator could leave a customized pointer back to my own site? They said, yeah, cool, but we’re busy.

So why keep using Bloglines, or any aggregator? I have to admit that there are parts of the abstraction of news aggregators that I like; there is an aesthetic to the technology that is cool, despite the fact that I agree with Lago’s criticism of the way it distances readers from writers. At this point, it’s also at least partly about inertia. It’s hard to change directions, especially now that my up-to-date links list is stored there. This new site may be a good opportunity to correct that, especially because Textpattern has better management of links than Movabletype—built in. On that score, I’ll keep you posted.