After thinking about grading systems, it occurred to me that such a categorization could also be applied to the folders of my RSS reader. I’ve been fiddling with RSS on and off and eventually landed on a similar but simpler system that Ton Zijlstra calls feed reading by social distance. In essence, I (used to) have 6 folders that drill down on social distance:
- IRL Friends
- Online Friends
- Podcasts & Video
Like Ton, I always re-label the feeds and use the person’s real name instead of their blog name, or, if space permits it, something like
Rachel Greenwood | The Greenery. If a feed is “old” (inactive), I do not remove it, but prepend
zOLD | making them the last in their respective folder. That way, my feed reader still checks their pulse. You never know when a blog rises from the dead!
The problem is, for me, reading by social distance does not work.
I still regularly scroll up and down and still regularly mark stuff as “read” just to get rid of the notices. The problem is that social distance categories are just as arbitrary as categorizing them by genre—which most people do and I did before (“games”, “programming”, …). There is no separation in quality. Some IRL/Online friends' blogs I have in my reader are much more interesting to me than others'. Many sites from category 4 are more interesting than most stuff in category 1. The quick and dirty solution would be to simply start trimming, but then I’d lose track of what they’re up to, and possibly miss out on a potentially interesting post in the future.
Here’s where the grading system again steps in: why not simply creating folders “01 Excellent”, “02 Good”, “03 OK”, “04 Mediocre” or similar, to keep the good ones on top? That’s exactly what I did and it’s working much better than my social distance attempt. This has nothing to do with frequency of posts or primary topic. It’s dead-simple: stuff that is, for me, the most engaging to read, comes in first.
Starvation is likely to occur in scheduling algorithms like those: less interesting ones on the bottom perhaps never make it to the top. For now, this isn’t yet a problem as I don’t have hundreds of feeds to go through and usually have my reader open once a day. If a series of posts draws my attention, I simply relocate the feed to a more appealing folder. Such a move happens once or so every two weeks. I also have a “To Evaluate” folder that could also be labeled as “Inbox” or “In Moderation”, where new entries always start out.
I dislike complicated readers (this includes outliers!), AI-powered ones, cloud-based ones, and everything else that smells like “big data”. I just want a simple way to enjoy reading others' writings. I think the new categories are set out to help with that.