Why I’m Better Than an RSS Feed

Published: 01/27/04

I begin each work day by compiling a set of clips. It’s a task that fell in my lap a few years ago and it’s probably my least favorite daily duty and the task I would most like to hand to someone else. (I love my job. I really do. So I’ll keep doing this task along with all the good, nifty, fun things I do.) Ever since I heard the comment last week that an RSS feed is like a librarian, I’ve really been thinking about the tasks I do and how they relate to feeds. Finding the clips every morning is the most closely related task. I would love to have that process syndicated so that I can have 1-4 hours of my day to do other things and the people who rely on those clips can still get them.

I was really thinking about it today as I was preparing the articles and I realized that it would be very difficult to subscribe to feeds that match what I find. First of all, there aren’t very many set sources. I use databases to scour thousands of sources, so it’s not like I could subscribe to ten RSS feeds and all the content I need would come to me.

Certain databases I use may not want to utitilize RSS feeds–though for those of us who run the same search(es) every day, it would be a very powerful tool. I read certain sources to not only look for certain keywords, but to track issues. How do you explain to a feed that you want it to bring you articles about information technology, for example, but only as it relates to certain vague and broad concepts, like how our competitors use it or what kinds of new technologies are appearing. It seems like I’d encounter the same problem the office has had with using clipping services: it’s difficult to explain what to look for because so much of it is intuitive. I could set up a feed, but someone, probably me, would still have to go through the aggregator to weed what’s there before distributing the clips. Is sorting through many unrelated items that come to me better than the way I already do things?

I think the biggest advantage would be having the links come to me. On an average day, it might take me twenty minutes to sweep the databases looking for relevant items. It then usually takes me another twenty to thirty minutes to search for links to the articles on the Web. (To comply with copyright law, I only distribute a citation and a very small portion of each article. If I can find a link to an article on the Web, then clip subscribers can access the complete text on their own.) If an RSS feed brings me relevant items, then it might also bring me links–saving me a lot of time and effort. I already use a news alert service for that and it really does save me a lot of time, perhaps 5-10 minutes an article. (It adds up, trust me.) Would a feed be that different from an alert service?

I’m not sure that what I want is possible with RSS feeds alone. It sounds like what I need is a version of the Clarkbot that goes out, searches around, and then retrieves lots of relevent items from thousands of sources. The Clarkbot is like a librarian …

Ideally, some way to automate the entire process so that no one would really have to be involved and the clip subscribers would be happy with the results might be the best situation. Reclaiming 1/4 of my work week would be awesome.

But I also have to remember that I’m probably more personable than an RSS feed and maybe I’m nicer to look at, too. <smirk> When people have problems with something, sometimes they’d rather talk to a person than a machine.

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