Reduced need for subscriptions?

I just opened NetNewsWire (my feed reader) for the first time in about three weeks. I think that’s the longest I’ve gone without looking at it in many years. Even when I did open it, it was more out of habit than out of necessity. Why isn’t it calling me any more?

These days individual feeds are far less relevant to me. The ambient awareness (in my case, emanating from Twitter and Filtrbox) seems to have relegated all of my “subscriptions” to second class citizens in my world of information. It seems that most of what I’m reading in my feed reader is either a) something I’ve already seen through a newsfeed or other amplification or b) not that interesting.  Twitter has already sussed out the really interesting stuff, and my persistent searches through Filtrbox make sure I’m not missing something that’s directly on point.

I think that’s becuase I’m subscribed to way too many feeds via RSS. I think I can now cut back to a few dozen, instead of 120. Sure, I’ve got friends whose blogs I want to be sure I’m keeping up with in full. And I’ve got certain feeds that are just pure streams of brilliance. I won’t unsubscribe from those. But I think the trend is clear – most of us have already read the really good stuff before we even look at our RSS feeds.

Take TechCrunch for example. Does anyone but the truly die hard geek really read every post any more? Why? There’s just no need. If it’s really that interesting, I’m hearing about it elsewhere. I’ll keep my TechCrunch subscription but I’ll continue to fly past almost every article, never reading more than the title. Occasionally, I’ll learn something. It’s become more like a magazine, and less like news.

I suppose the new way of thinking is to understand that there are really three types of information that we’re now consuming:

Alerts – By this I mean “important current events”. Essentially 100% of my alerts come from Twitter. Whatever the story, if I care about it, I almost always see it there first.

News – I think of data as all of the stuff that’s highly specific and relevant to my world, but that isn’t really time critical. Twitter supplies me with an awful lot of this too, and Filtrbox fills in the void where my social connections don’t create the approprate ampliciation automatically. The news is needed, but it’s not needed immediately.

Feeds – Now I think of RSS feeds or “subscriptions” more like I used to think of magazines. It’s the stuff to pass some time with. It lets me catch up with old friends, and provides me with some random and interesting stuff to ponder.

I’m left to wonder though – shouldn’t there be a new breed of RSS reader that understands that I’ve already seen the alerts and the news? I’m now spending a meaningful chunk of time in my feed reader just skipping over stuff I’ve already read. It would be neat if NetNewsWire could automatically hide any articles that I’ve already visited based on my browser history.

There is one more type of information that I get through Twitter. It’s the one I don’t want:

Noise – This is the price you pay for using Twitter. You can be sure that Twitter will deliver the news, but you have to be willing to parse the noise. Fortunately, this is very easy to do as long as you have a reasonable amount of discipline in how you consume Twitter.

No wonder that when you attend media conferences, you now hear old school journalists in the know saying that Twitter is the most important technology that affects their industry. Twitter effectively delivers both types of important information (alerts and news) if you use it correctly, at a very small price.

This has me thinking. I think we’re going to see a real decline in the subscriber counts of long tail publishers. After all, if you write something really great, I’ll find out about it anyway, right? Unless I’m really close to you and/or I really want to read every word you say, there’s just no need to subscribe anymore.  The good stuff you write will find it’s way to me, and my social filters will block the garbage. Subscriptions will remain only where strong community allegiance and/or participation exists.

How has your information consumption pattern changed in the last year?

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