It’s wonderful to see my friends at the Guardian taking the ballsy move to produce full-text RSS feeds. I know this is somewhat nerve-making in media: Why shiould we put all our content out there on a feed without getting people to come to our pages and see all our ads? A few answers. First, many people won’t click through. Take ’em when you got ’em. Second, think distributed; that’s my first WWGD? rule for news organizations. You have to go to where the people are. RSS is home delivery 2.0. Third, the feeds will have ads and though there’ll be fewer of them, the potential for more audience reading more stories is great. It’s a bold experiment and I hope they do well with it. (Disclosure: I write and work for the Guardian.)
So here’s what I’m trying — and I’m grateful for any help in doing it better:
The idea is that Twitter users can share instant reviews of what they’re watching — TV shows, movies, concerts, anything — by twittering (is the verb form tweeting?) to @twitcrit.
It takes some hacks to try to make that visible, since @twitcrit messages are private and since the RSS feed it spawns requires authentication. Here’s how I’m doing it now: Following Chris Brogan’s example, I’m using a search at Terraminds, which creates an RSS feed of all tweets with “@twitcrit” within and I’m importing that into the twitcrit account on Twitter (so you can follow that) using Twitterfeed and also into a Twitcrit Tumblog. This has problems, though: Tumblr updates only once an hour, Twitterfeed only once a half-hou (and it includes only up to five entries). Arrrggghh.
The goal is simple: We twit/tweet/whatever our nanoreviews using Twitter and then aggregate them so we can compare notes. I’d like to be able to follow everyone’s critical tweets on Twitter and archive them on a web page (blog, tumblog, whatever). I was hoping to start heavy use of it this Sunday watching the season premier of The Wire.
Any better ideas of how we can aggregate our instant reviews?
: Later: Stowe Boyd suggestings using hashtags: #twitcrit. And then I can feed that RSS onto a page. But can I follow a hashtag on Twitter? That’s what I want to do.
Dave Winer in an email exchange asks whether I want the product to look like Club140. Yes. But I also want to follow the nanoreviews in Twitter. Perhaps I want too much.
Contemplating 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.
I’m delighted for the Feedburner team that they’ve been acquired by Google for a reported $100 million. It’s hard to think of a more upstanding company in the blog and RSS world than Feedburner. They have unparalleled customer service; they have always been forthright and transparent; they are incredibly responsive; and they’re just nice guys. They also have vision. When Feedburner started, I’ll admit that I didn’t understand why I needed them. But I finally got it and I have had nothing but pleasant encounters with their management and their service. Congratulations. (Investor Fred Wilson’s take here.)
Dave Winer is up to something important… again. He has been talking about wanting “rivers of news” — that is, headlines stripped of the packaging around them to give him a constant flow of what’s new. And he just created a few to feed his — and our — mobile phones.
What’s fascinating about this is that while consultants and think tanks aplenty are still running around trying to come up with fancy applications made just for mobile but Dave shows that the best application is simplicity: Just the news, sir. And keep it flowing.
He created rivers from The New York Times and the BBC and while he was at it, he created no-ballast versions of a handful of blogs (what about me, Dave?).
Note that the only graphics on the pages he created are an orange question mark that leads to an brief explanation page with a picture of Dave. That’s it. Otherwise, it’s just information. In a sense, it’s like RSS, except it’s even simpler, even dumber: just a page with an address that has the latest from a source. I’ve been using them today and they’re quite compelling just because they are so simple and fast and to-the-point.
At some point, I’ll want to customize them; I don’t want sports. And the sources will have to figure out their ad strategy for the mobile world, but they’re doing that anyway. (He points to Times printer pages, which are sponsored.) But they should take the example from this simplicity.
(Full disclosure: Dave is an investor in Daylife, where I’ve been working; that was where I first heard him push his demand for rivers of news.)
: LATER: Ewan MacLeod explains why this is better than the state of the art.