It's easy to get sucked into things. You can sit down with a good book for a few minutes and before you know it, several hours and a few hundred pages have gone by. It happens to all of us now and then.

My allocation of time spent reading RSS feeds and various blog or social web sites (Digg, Reddit, TailRank, Memeorandum, has always been a bit slippery. I'd simply read until I was done reading. I had to make sure all those folders and feeds were un-bolded before I was "done." And every once in a while, the periodic update would run before I finished, and I'd end up with even more work to do. The horror!

I spent some time thinking hard about that use of my time yesterday and realized that it's a classic example of diminishing returns. Since I almost always read that stuff in my own "priority order" I get the most bang for my time in the first 15 minutes or so. Beyond that, I'm panning for gold and it feels like the supply is dwindling. Another 10 minutes spent reading about the latest Dave Winer drama is hardly a good use of my time.

I remember reading about Robert Scoble's reading habits a while ago. He'd spend 3-5 hours every day reading his 1,500+ feeds, also panning for gold. That seemed insane to me then (and still does). But I've been doing the same thing, albeit in a less extreme way.

So it's time to change my habits--or at least form new ones. For the next two weeks I'm allocating 30 minutes per day to this reading, trolling, and mining effort. There's no pre-set limit on how much time I'll spend writing. The returns associated with writing appear to be quite different.

What will I do with that extra time?

I'll spend the "work" time coding a new idea and battling the inbox. I'll spend the "home" time studying for my upcoming FAA written test.

Someday someone will pull all this ranking, customization, personalization, recommendation, and other magic technology together and give me a great reason to throw out my RSS Aggregator once at for all. Until then, I'm going on a Feed Diet.

Posted by jzawodn at March 16, 2006 07:10 AM

Reader Comments
# susan mernit said:

I know--my aggregrator is such a huge time sink. I find it's cut alot more into my free time reading--I am reading MUCH less literary fiction and much more in terms of food/wine/fashion travek blogs. With the work stuff, I have an hour every morning to blog before I head to work, so that's the read/write time I rely on.

on March 16, 2006 07:40 AM
# Rob Sanheim said:

I've found a click on the top of bloglines (the all feeds link) helps me crunch thru my feeds much quicker. I realize I need to scan 300 items, and I need to do it quickly - so I just page down and open up interesting items in tabs for bookmarking or reading.

on March 16, 2006 08:06 AM
# Deepak said:

As time has gone on, I have figured out which feeds I get the most out of, and which ones I rarely follow. The latter have all been deleted now. If there are really good articles they tend to show up on one of the meme trackers anyway. In fact some of the more popular blogs are ideal for that, since they do tend to show up, while the obscure ones don't. I probably spend 30 minutes in the morning, sometimes over lunch and another hour in the evening.

on March 16, 2006 08:17 AM
# Wendy said:

I've been struggling with this myself this week. And it is a HUGE time waster. I agree with Susan, I find myself reading less for fun and pleasure now (and me an English major! That's pititful!).

This week I made the decision that I would only read my feeds for say around 30 or 40 minutes, or until I felt that nudging of "that's enough". And then I would, you know, actually WORK. :>)

on March 16, 2006 08:27 AM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Excellent - thanks for the kick in head of my diminishing returns on reading. I'm also concerned about having narrowed my focus, though blogs are better than network news.

on March 16, 2006 08:55 AM
# Grant Hutchins said:

I find it ironic that you would fill your time with checking your inbox. Seems like the same problem. Well, at least some of the stuff you'd be reading would actually be aimed at you.

on March 16, 2006 09:15 AM
# grumpY! said:

this obsession with data often leads to false conclusions about trends, expectations, also ends up simply wasting a great deal of time.

look to the financial world for analogies. obsessing over short term trends and data points can often be extremely dangerous, and some well known fund managers actually recommend a degree of willful ignorance as a safety mechanism.

as an exercise, try not turning on your computer when you go home from work. this might not be realistic every night, but try it two or three nights a week.

on March 16, 2006 09:42 AM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:

This isn't about "filling" my time. It's about making sure that a scarce resource (my time) is used for things are actually benefit me.

on March 16, 2006 09:52 AM
# D said:

I also read whenever I have to wait for something. It helps that Kinja shows the post title and the first few sentences. Also, Kinja pulls up pretty decently on my EVDO VX6600. If it's a really good post, it's faster to copy the URL to Pocket Word. Urghh, Info Addiction!!

on March 16, 2006 09:57 AM
# Moataz said:

Similarly to Deepak, I also only aggregate from fewer sources now because a lot of the more interesting discussions float up on the memetrackers.

I think that there are many unresolved problems with the current generation of aggregators. NewsGator and Bloglines are great for heavy blog readers that have a lot of time to sift through so many feeds but I doubt whether the mass market will accept this type of interface. I've been working on a different type of aggregator (a social network aggregator) that specifically aggregates content only from people in one's social network. So if your friends or relatives write a new blog or upload a new photo on Flickr, you would be notified of it. The major difference with my aggregator is the built in social aspect. Ofcourse, I use this in addition to a normal feed aggregtor since people in my social network don't cover every topic of interest.

on March 16, 2006 11:20 AM
# incognito said:

What would a recommendation engine for feeds look like? Would it recommend feeds that you like or should it recommend individual article from the feeds that you might like to read?
Both of these solutions can be achived however the second approach may introduce a delay as to when the article is recommended for you. Obvioulsy we have the technology to do this but the implementation is in question.

on March 16, 2006 11:39 AM
# John Herren said:

Coincidentally, reBlog is a hot topic at the moment, due to a post on Lifehacker. Check out the screencast of the guy weeding through his feeds:

on March 16, 2006 05:19 PM
# Stoney deGeyter said:

I work my blog feeds much like I work my TiVo (well almost). With TiVo, I give every new network an opportunity to get me want to watch another episode. Most don't and I never see those shows again. Some do and I'll start watching and start enjoying. But soon I have far too many shows being recorded, many of them good shows but most of them not GREAT shows. That's when I delete season passes to all shows that are good but not great and only keep the great ones... the ones I absolutely look forward to watching.

While I don't give EVERY blog feed a chance to interest me, I do skim new feeds I find from time to time. Some I might revisit, but after a while I delete those that may be good, but not great. There's only so much time in the day to watch TV or read blogs!

on March 16, 2006 10:05 PM
# Charles said:

That reblog video makes it look terribly unwieldy. You have to touch every single article too. It seems easier for me to use Safari's RSS reader, I just scroll through feeds and command-click interesting links to toss them into another tab. Then when I am done skimming feeds, I go through all the opened tabs to clear each story.

on March 17, 2006 12:44 AM
# Jeffrey Friedl said:

This kind of problem is certainly not new, and a solution that worked 15 years ago to stem time wasted reading Usenet would work just fine here: set your reader's colors to blue text on a red background. You'll find your reading time drastically reduced from day one. Seriously.

on March 17, 2006 04:32 AM
# Abu Hurayrah said:

Just curious, but have you placed any value in that rare "gold nugget" that you've found in what would otherwise be a none-"first 15 minutes" feed? It might be that this nugget leads itself to a goldmine - an entirely new feed that is as good or superior to your existing feeds.

How do you place a value on these rarer events?

on March 17, 2006 06:51 AM
# Kevin Burton said:

Hey Jeremy...

I've been meaning to respond to this post.

This is actually the main reason I designed Tailrank. I wanted to design a tool that could easily allow people to monitor thousands of news sources.

If you upload your OPML file you can click on "My News Filter" and it will build a custom feed for you. You can also have Tailrank recommend other weblogs for you as well to expand the number of weblogs you're monitoring.

Let me know if you have any feedback...


on March 17, 2006 12:08 PM
# Steve Mallett said:

I'm with you Jeremy. I'm looking at fewer actual blogs and aggregating digg/reddit/slashdot/digg with or (no slashdot) for some seredipitity in my day.

on March 17, 2006 02:07 PM
# Ron K. Jeffries said:

Jeremy, You are on to something big.

Your (not yet announced) book:
The Zawody (Feed) Diet will be a best seller.

Me? I'm working on a vaccine against Flame War Flu.

on March 18, 2006 10:03 AM
# Bart Noppen (Percept) said:

What about, it has replaced 80% of my RSS feeds and I no longer have to visit digg,, reddit, ...

on March 22, 2006 01:40 PM
# rachel said:

I purposely queried, "Why Read Diet Blogs", and found yours. If I read another diet blog, I'm kicking myself. I have wasted so much time on people who are perpetually on a diet. Weeks later, they weigh the same. No success, just the gerbil wheel of food intake and exercise habits. They gain it all back and blab on. Thanks for putting it all in perspective for me. I'm policing myself.

on May 23, 2006 05:48 AM
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