The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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The Feed Giveth, the Feed Taketh Away

Pieter’s description of his reading habits resonated with me. I, too, subscribe to an info-megaton of feeds, and derive a sort of cruel pleasure from scrolling through them at warp speed. If you don’t catch my eye, too bad for you. Mark all as read.

But then, over at Laura’s site—which is crisp and appealing—I find a link to Jon Kyle’s, which is amazing. Look at that quote treatment. That is the best quote treatment I have ever seen on the entire internet.

Now I’m imagining those quotes, completely stripped of style, in Google Reader. Mark all as read.

Jon Kyle’s site just keeps going. It’s stunning.

What do we do about this? On one hand: the demands of scale; the great, brain-tingling opportunities of aggregation. On the other hand: the richness of a great frame; all that the setting adds to the stone.

I don’t even really have a dream solution. These two values feel really fundamentally incompatible to me. Scale vs. specificity.

Of course, I’m not just talking about a few beautiful sites; I could put those in a bookmark folder and check ’em every so often. I’m talking about the rapidly-growing regime of words and images as portable, style-free info-bundles—which has a lot going for it!—vs. a world where words and images are fundamentally linked to their design and context, because without them they’d just be lame quotes in a Google Reader window.

It actually feels like there’s an opportunity here, but I’m not sure what it is. Anyway, until we figure it out, you should probably bookmark this and this.


This is something I have been thinking about quite a bit, actually. Because it’s not just that RSS feeds strip posts of their context–bloggers are used to that and mostly plan for it–it’s also that we have built a lot of tools on the internet (ffffound, tumblr, etc.) that strip away context. So easy to remove forwarding links, credit, caption, url. No way to ever know where content has been or where it’s going.

I’m in support of the whole idea of obscurity being a greater threat than piracy and all, but I don’t really think that (a) anyone is getting famous or that (b) the world is that enriched by random content shrapnel.

In any case, whether I think it’s right or wrong, it’s just the way of the Internet and I can accept that. But what we’re approaching here is what was once “content” being stripped of its nutritious value and being processed into “content product”. See where I’m going with this? I could see, over time, readers realizing how many empty calories, in the form of news “snippets” or meaningless photos, we’ve been consuming on the web and there being a counter movement.

I’ve seen the term “slow blogging” show up a few times around the web recently in different contexts, and it definitely comes to mind now. I could see a parallel on the web to what we’ve seen in the food industry, where the early adopters seek out whole, local, organic… content. From the source. On the site it was designed for, from the person who wrote it. Or at least prepared in a way that shows respect to the ingredient. But we need to constantly improve the quality of the experience on our sites, and the “distribution” options (rss, bookmarks, and so on) to make that work.

Maybe along with scale and specificity, there’s a constant, necessary tension between authentic and efficient, and this is just one way it plays out.

Laura “Crisp and Appealing” Brunow Miner

p.s. More on this when my relevant project has launched.

Whoah! “Random content shrapnel”! I am going to appropriate that phrase.

Good thoughts all around.

Jake says…

I say reevaluate and scale back your OPML if you’re feeling that way. That’s why Google Reader has Trends, no? When I look at my new items, I weight my attention based on the source as much as a catchy headline. My feed moves slowly enough for this to work. I guess you could use a “must-read” folder, but I like my river. Then again, perhaps JK’s site just doesn’t work with RSS – I allow the possibility, especially for art. Do you really need those lovely quotes ASAP, mixed in with Techcrunch? For example, I want a serendipitous update of international & (most) tech news, but I’m OK with just scanning daily.

I don’t think there is an equilibrium of scale & specificity, even for an individual. You can keep seeking it, though, getting marginally closer.

Yeah, feed gardening is a must. But I gotta say, I’m not being glib when I talk about the amazing opportunity of aggregation. I really like getting this much stuff collected in one place; I like having the skills to sift through it all quickly.

So this isn’t the usual “ugh, information overload!” complaint. You’re onto it when you say “JK’s site just doesn’t work with RSS” — I think that’s the key. The content of his site isn’t just the words and images that you can put into the <content> field of a feed. In fact that’s probably less than 50% of it! Weird! As far as I’m concerned, the “content” also consists of the design surrounding it all. Aggregators have no way to handle that. (And it’s not clear to me that they could.)

Jake says…

I realize you aren’t complaining about info overload… but your experience of content shrapnel and fast food share a detriment: sensuous poverty.

OK, yeah, that was snark.

Why doesn’t someone figure out how to pull all the CSS elements from a blog and render posts in their original style in a reader? There might be huge technical hurdles, but that’s what we have genius programmers for.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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