Ancient river of news

earlypaper1.jpgContemplating the Guardian’s 50,000th edition, it occurs to Charlie Beckett that early newspapers were a lot like RSS:

It has the same level plane which allows the reader to decide what is the most important story, simply assembling news on separate pages which you have to filter and organise for yourself.

In that sense it highlights how online functionality is in some ways still behind the old technology. As I discovered trying to read the new one-section Independent on Sunday, newspapers are brilliant for flicking through until you find something you want to read. Unfortunately, the Sindy has nothing I wanted to read and so I quickly returned to my PDA and my Netvibes RSS aggregator page….

Online journalism has many advantages over its paper version, but it still needs to work much harder at usability. Newspapers took a century to work up the ultra user friendly objects we now have. News websites and blogs will have to work a bit quicker than that if they are to celebrate 50,000 editions.

I like the analogy to RSS but I’m not sure I agree that it’s a regression not a progression. Dave Winer has been begging for news organizations to just give him a river of news that he’ll judge. That says that RSS is an advance in the form. We can debate whether the news is overpackaged or whether online is underpackaged and I’ll say both views are right: One-size-fits-all news cannot possibly give me just what I need and the idea that editors can feed us what they say we should eat is hubris born out of the limitations of the medium of paper. But I also want some more functionality on top of my beloved RSS feeds to help me sift better. That may be technology. It’s more likely people and technology together.

: LATER: Charlie says I misstated. He’s right. I should have put it more in the context of where RSS is in its evolution. From the comments:

I didn’t actually say that RSS was a ‘regression’ – quite the opposite. I don’t know anyone who would defend a century-old format over online journalism!
As I wrote, I would choose the variety of RSS feeds over any newspaper. But what I concluded, however, was that newspapers have had a long time to get their format right for their audience. Now online news sites and blogs need to work even harder at finding the right reader and helping the reader find the right stories.