Fri Mar 4 18:45:37 PST 2011


Recently I've discovered that several friends of mine don't use RSS readers. In fact, quite a few people I know, I would even go so far as to say a narrow majority, don't.

These aren't non-technical people, mind you. They're all reasonably au courant, which just makes it all the more surprising. Well, no longer. You're all on notice.

If you are even vaguely competent, you have to use a RSS reader.

This isn't a fad. This isn't Myspace, or Foursquare, or Twitter, or; or any number of fashions that have swept the tech world. This is e-mail important. If you're checking news sites and blogs manually, you're wasting your goddamn time.

I subscribe to 366 feeds. It hardly needs to be said that keeping up with that many sites the stone age way is straight up impossible. I could spend twelve hours a day typing in URLs and hitting refresh and not even touch half of them.

So if the rest of this post persuades you not at all, at least have some self respect. Get off the irregular reward treadmill, and get back precious hours of your life.

If you refuse to use a RSS reader, and "subscribe" to my blog by visiting it manually every so often, or worse,[1] then you can fuck right off. (Except for you, several people I know in real life. You can stay. For now.) The front page of the bblog has one purpose, and one purpose alone: convincing people to subscribe to the RSS feed. The archives are used so the web spiders find the old posts, so that people using search engines hit the individual posts, read them, and then subscribe to my RSS feed. People use the bblog for other things, but the intent is to gain a RSS subscriber, increment the number in the counter, and to give me the warm glow of knowledge that yet another person is subjecting themselves to my inane crap.

The third reason you should use RSS, after saving your own time, and feeding my ego, is to save precious, precious bandwidth, a resource so rare that Australia rations it.

Anybody who hits the front page of the bblog makes dozens of HTTP requests, to the index file, the stylesheet, the favicon and a blizzard of image files. Now, my addiction to images may be exacerbating the problem, but even in the best case, this is a couple of megabytes.

A RSS reader will check a site more often than all but the most obsessed fan, but the web server will only return a "file unchanged" status code until it's actually updated. In this case, the only bandwidth consumed is that of the HTTP request.

It can get even better than that. Google Reader uses a single web spider, serving updates to, potentially, thousands of subscribers. The same is true of any web-based RSS reader.

There's a fourth reason, and it's to save me time.

Every linkbait "How to be a better blogger" article on Reddit is usually a 50/50 mix of mediocre advice and poisonous SEO crap. One of the latter pieces will usually be something along the lines of "update often, more than once a day". This is cool, but it means I can't subscribe to your blog. I just don't have time!

So I'm subscribed to 366 feeds. Depending on the day of week, I'll get about 60 updates a day, which is just about as much time I want to spend looking at a RSS reader.

35 or 45 of those will be webcomics, which I like to see updated, or a variety of sparsely updated blogs, which are also a pleasure to read. The other twenty are feeds that are updated daily, or more often. The math is simple. Frequently updated blogs are 4% of the total subscription count, but take up maybe half of the total updates. Frequently updated blogs are expensive in terms of attention. I have to pick and choose, and carefully. I can't subscribe to everything I want.

I'd like to subscribe to Dave Barry's blog, but I can't. He just posts too damn often. Same with John Gruber. I used to subscribe to Hack A Day, but then they started posting more than once a day, for some reason. I'd like to read dooce, may god have mercy on my soul, but for every genuinely amusing post, she throws up a dozen pictures of her damn dogs. Or pictures of her children. Or pointless metablogging posts where she apologizes for not having a post up that day, which is a real spectacular waste of my fucking time when I have subscribed to your feed.

It's not like the value of the blog linearly scales with each post. Daily posts are just filler, meant to keep the site in the minds of its readers. Bruce Sterling's blog: for every alarmingly insightful essay about wikileaks, there's a couple dozen pointless links to old news I already saw on social news sites and elsewhere. Plus, he apparently doesn't know how to create inline links.

This, all of it, is a waste of time.

Let's compare two posts: this one and this one. One of them was made by someone who has to post two entries a day, even if they don't have anything particularly interesting to say. One of them was not posted according to a schedule. No prize for guessing which.

If it wasn't for the clueless masses, authors I otherwise like wouldn't be forced to churn out shit.

There's a simple technological fix to this problem. Engadget, of all the places, pioneered it: a rss feed just for important items. It's implemented in a half-assed and largely retarded way, of course, since AOL is where smart people go to die, but at least they're trying. Without this feed I wouldn't read Engadget at all.

So I'm stealing it. The bblog now has an important rss feed. It'll only have stuff like water sims and amusing legal threats, and not amusing chat logs. The flip side is that I'll be posting more often, but never more than once a day, unless in the event of nuclear war, or PAX.

And if you implement one too, I'll be able to read your blog.

1: I know of one person who checks my blog by typing "bbot" into Google, clicking on the link to, then clicking on the blog link. I am not joking. What the hell is wrong with you, Ian? Why do you hate America?

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