How I Manage 844 Feeds in My RSS Reader

On a mailing list that I am on, I recently chimed in on a thread about librarian bloggers with a mention of how I followed hundreds of blogs in my RSS reader. Someone asked what my system was for keeping up. Rather than burden that list with a huge reply, I’ve written it up here. I think I’ve found a system that is manageable for me, but I can’t claim that the regimen is for everyone. The short version is that I skim a lot, archive a lot of what I’ve enjoyed, and save a lot for reading later, not all of which I eventually get to. What follows is what I do pretty much every single day.

Check in Feedly Throughout the Day

There are a ton of reasons why I like Feedly as my feed reader. The main one is that it’s available to me in lots of places. The more places that I can check in to see what new items have turned up, the easier it is to keep up. I can get to it in my browser, on my Android phone and Android tablet, and the loaner iPad I have from work.

Each day, I check in anywhere from ten to thirty times a day to see what’s unread. Now that I’ve typed that, I realize how crazy it looks, but honestly, I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t find the stream of information in the feeds valuable. When I am viewing Feedly in the browser, I only use the keyboard shortcut of “J” to advance to the next item (or “K” if I realize I need to back up to a previous item). Scrolling and clicking is way too inefficient a technique for getting through the typical ten to twenty unread items that greet me when I log in. If I go more than eight or nine hours, there might be up to one hundred unread items if it is a weekday and thirty to forty if it is a weekend.

I do a lot of headline scanning as I click “J” and make lots of quick decisions about whether at that moment I:

  • am interested enough to way to linger and read the post right then
  • am happy enough gleaning what I can from the headline
  • want to read a few sentences from the start and then move on
  • want to save the post in one of two places (more on that in a moment)

On my phone, tablet, and iPad, I can swipe through posts almost as quickly as I can click “J” when in the browser.

When I Want To Save Something

I have two main places that I use to save articles and one more that is as much for saving as it is for publicly sharing what I think is interesting. If I see a post, maybe a longish one or one that requires more directed attention, I’ll save it to Instapaper, a service I dearly love. Once an item gets saved to my Instapaper account, I can download it to my gadgets for offline reading. The downloaded version is a clean, mostly text only version of the post, which makes it really easy to read and focus on. Once I’ve read a post that I had saved in Instapaper, I delete it from my account.

In the Feedly app, you can designate what “read later” service you want your posts to be saved to. I set it up to go to Instapaper. At the top of every post in the Feedly app is a save icon I can tap that will send that item straight off to Instaper. In the browser, when I’m plowing through posts, if I want to save a post to Instapaper, I have to use a different method; I click on the post title to open it up in a different browser tab (it opens the post on the blog itself, not in Feedly) and the use the Instapaper bookmarklet I’ve got set up on the browser toolbar.

Sometimes after I’ve read a saved post in Instapaper, (maybe half of the time), I decide that it’s interesting enough that I want to share it with the world. I find a quote from the post that’s caught my imagination (even if it’s something I don’t agree with) and post it to my Tumblr site (along with a link back to the original post). That Tumblr serves as my commonplace book as well as archive of blog posts that I may want to get back to later. By using Tumblr to maintain my commonplace book, I can make my private acts of discovery and reading public, thereby spotlighting in a very open manner something that I think other folks in libraryland might find interesting.*

There are a handful of posts that turn up in Feedly that I want to save that are not really work-related. These posts are typically very pragmatic things that I suspect I’ll want to return to later (such as posts from Lifehacker about the top 5 pieces of software for creating DVDs). Posts like these I save to Evernote in a special notebook just for such items.

Weeding the Feeds

Over seven to eight years that I’ve been using a feed reader (Bloglines, then Google Reader, now Feedly), I’ve been adding new feeds to my collection of subscriptions at the rate of about one to three a month. Every few months, I unsubscribe to a feed because I’ve giving up on it providing any items I care about or because I’ve noticed that it’s been dormant for at least a year. I’ve not been that assiduous, though, about weeding dormant feeds all these years, as a number of blogs that I had given up as dead have sometimes come back to life. Also, it’s really not worth my time to delete dead feeds, as they really don’t take up any mental space for me; they’re are invisible within my reader unless I go browse the complete list of feeds, something I rarely do.

So that’s my system. It may sound nutty to some, but I hope that the technique of passing items off to Instapaper and Evernote is useful to some people who are struggling with unread items. My final word of advice is don’t sweat it at all if you decide to declare feed bankruptcy; if your inbox overflows beyond all reason, just click the “mark all as read” and move on with your life. Chances are, someone in the near future will blog about that same topic or link back to one of those posts you skipped, offering you another chance at it.

* Using the IFTTT service, I’ve got it set up so that every post on my Tumblr site is copied into my Evernote account. That way, I’ve got all those posts backed up in Evernote and saved in place where I’ve got all sorts of documents, notes, etc. squirreled away (not to mention easily refound via Evernote’s great search capabilities).