How to read feeds without driving yourself mad

Classic blogging advice goes something like this:

“The best bloggers are keenly aware of what is going on inside and outside their  niche. Without being aware of news, trends and great content others have  created, the quality of our expertise declines.”

Reading from feeds has made the task of following blogs quicker and easier.  If you are new to feeds, check out this fantastic plain English video guide to how they work and how they can help (thanks to Engtech writing at Lorelle on Word Press for the tip.)

But the more blogs you follow, the more feeds you read, the more links you will find to other posts, other sites, other interesting, intriguing and amazing writers.  With a feed reader it’s easy to add a feed - and before you know it maybe you find yourself following 60, 80, 100, 200 blogs.  That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re reading them all closely (would it be humanly possible?!)  It probably means you’re finding some way to scan them for what you’re looking for.

Again there’s advice out there about ways to scan through a large number of feeds quickly, including separating out your processing into scan-reading and deep reading.  Maybe I’m not doing it right but I still often feel like I’m suffering from feed reading overload.  A bit like the brain scramble you get when you scan all your e-mails at once to see what’s there and resolve to go back later.  The ideas, suggestions and questions that you’ve been scanning (and let’s face it, there are a lot of amazing ideas, suggestions and questions out there) still linger somewhere in your brain, asking to be thought about, niggling away for some kind of attention.


Anyway Liz got me thinking about feeds again this week with her question about what kind of feed reader we were: animal, vegetable or mineral.  The answers included mutts, bloodhounds, early birds and bees (I was the bee.)  It was a good question though because it got me thinking about what how we read, and what we’re reading for.

The inner conversation continued when Liz Strauss flagged up a post by Rick Mahn on his top 10 bloggers.  Now this wasn’t just another blogging list, it was based on his reaction to information overload from feed reading, and a decision to read his top 10 bloggers in their “natural environment” - their own site.  He says it’s because:

I believe that greater understanding and  enjoyment of their work is gained on their site”

He doesn’t go into the reasons, but it got me thinking about the bloggers that I want to visit on their own site, and why.  The main reason is because I want to join, follow and enjoy the conversations that go on there.  I want to let the writer (and other contributors) know that I’m around, that I’m part of their community, that I value and enjoy their work.  For me, the greatest pleasure, learning and enjoyment comes from the exchange of comments - ideas, humour, questions, suggestions… the conversations and connections that follow.

This idea was echoed at Joyful Jubilant Learning this week with a celebration of their 1,000th comment (congratulations!)  With an invitation to join in Rosa Say writes:

If you only read via RSS and never click in, you are missing a lot of what happens here. Those 1,000 comments represent nearly FOUR TIMES the number of posts we do!
Don’t go it alone: Enjoy the Power of We and Learn with us!

And it’s to Rosa that I turn to this last piece of thinking, reflection, challenge to me, to us, on what we read and why.  Writing at Managing with Aloha Coaching she asks us to think about

What choices do you make with what you read, and further, with what you respond to, fully knowing how they will influence you?

What kind of company do you keep, and which conversations do you willingly choose to engage in, because they strengthen you?

They are such great questions - and I think they will really help me to keep reading feeds without driving myself mad.  I’ve taken three actions in response so far:

  • I’ve rationalised (okay, culled) the number of feeds I read to a more sensible number, focusing on those I really enjoy and that add value, rather than those someone else has said I ‘should’ read
  • I’ve picked out my top 10 confident writers - the blogs that I want to visit in their natural environment, and join in their fabulous conversations
  • I’ve done some thinking and learning about the lessons learned, which I’m sharing here :-)

I’m still new to this game, of course, 3 months not 3 years and I know there’s still much to learn from you all.  I’d love to hear your own strategies for reading your feeds without going mad in the process.  Feed reading with a purpose.


This linking-thinking post is a contribution to Liz’s thematic links writing challenge, inspired (blushes) by my thoughts on how to write a links post.

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  1. Rick Mahn · · Reply

    Hi Joanna,
    Thanks for mentioning my Top 10 bloggers post. I guess I didn’t go into many reasons for doing this, but you you point out some good ones.

    I’ve been using RSS/feeds for about 3 years (or close to it) and have found that the more I’ve added and relied feed readers to interpret the information. I really like being able to scan 200+ feeds to get at the important content.

    However, while I scan through the posts, I feel like I’m skimming rather than reading. I believe that I’ve been missing the point of many great bloggers simply because they were “lumped in” with assorted news feeds and I lost the context.

    So far it has been rewarding, I *do* get more out of their content because of it. At the same time, however, it is much more time-consuming - again because I’m going to their sites instead of having the posts brought to me.

    Anyway, RSS/feeds are crucial to being able to digest large amounts of information in a manageable timeframe. Great post - thank you!


  2. Hello Rick, thanks for stopping by, and thanks very much for helping me think through my own feed reading habits this week.

    I’m with you, a feed reader is a great way to skim quickly and to keep an eye on what’s going on. But you helped me to realise if that’s all we do it can start to feel unsatisfactory (purposeless even), and that there’s a different sort of experience and reward to be had by visiting ‘in the natural environment’ (I loved that concept).

    As you say that does take longer, and like you I’ve limited it to 10. Just doing that also helped me think through what it was about those 10 that I really enjoyed, why I wanted to go visit, what I valued about the experience (and therefore why the time was an investment)

    I think this will really make a difference, so thanks for helping to give me the ‘aha’


  3. [...] of the things I enjoy the most about blogging to a monthly theme is the frame it provides to search with a purpose: for links, articles, photos, references and [...]

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