1000+ items. That's what Google Reader told me I need to read to catch up with my RSS subscriptions. It's intimidating. My RSS feeds were mocking me. I could see them with sneaky voices "hee hee, you'll never read me, you don't have the time. ha ha." The sad part is, they were right.
I stopped opening my RSS reader months ago. It wasn't a concerted effort, I just didn't do it. What I found was that longer I stayed away, the easier it was to stay away. Returns diminished with each passing day and at some point I gave up on reading anything via Google Reader. Now, I'm happy to report that I'm back on the wagon (I think that's the right analogy). My time away gave me some perspective on what I want to read and where I want to read it.
Culprit #1: Twitter
I was trying to figure out a clever title for this post along the lines of "Twitter Killed the RSS Star", but it wouldn't work. The sentiment works in my case however. I have integrated Twitter into my life and I think that it became a surrogate for reading blogs. Lots of people I follow share their blog posts on Twitter, I have found the relationships that are created to be more personal and it's all so lightweight. Watching Twitter updates gave me the feeling of connection, awareness and discussion that I love about blogs in an efficient and manageable package. Before I knew it, Twitter had replaced reading RSS feeds.
Culprit #2 Subscribing to the Wrong People
Looking back, my RSS reader has been filled with people I felt I should be reading. Let me repeat that - should be reading. I think that's a problem. I felt like I needed to watch TechCrunch to stay on top of tech news. I felt like I needed to subscribe to experts in my field(s). Sure, these subscriptions were educating me and raising my awareness, but I seriously question the cost/benefit. Reading them felt like homework - and I don't like homework.
This all came to a head recently when our best friends (and former Seattle neighbors) came to town and stayed with us. Within a little while, blogging came up and it turned out they had both posted a few entries in the run-up to the trip to Seattle. I had no idea. I had to tell them that I stopped reading blogs and I felt bad for not keeping up. These people matter about a million times more than the people clogging up my RSS Reader and I had let the 1000+items-of-things-that-don't-matter scare me away.
What I Did
Like I've done before, I started over. I opened up Google Reader, took a nice long look at the list and asked myself - does this matter to me? Do I even know this person? Will I be worse off without this content in my life? No. No. No. Nearly everything was wiped clean.
When I started adding feeds to fill the void, I did it with a filter. My RSS reader isn't for news, it isn't for niche analysis, it isn't because I "should". My RSS reader is now filled with subscriptions to sites that matter to me. These posts are written by people I know and care about. They make me feel like reading RSS is a treat - a few minutes spent being with an old friend.
It's only been a little while, but I think RSS may, once again, become a strong contender for my passive time. Now I can miss a day of RSS reading, open the reader and have Google Reader tell me I have 10 posts to read. That, I can do.