A rare non-game post.
I have a problem. I was on vacation for two weeks and spent very little time catching up on blogs and my other news feeds. As you can imagine I have a lot of information to sift through.
Now the problem is not so much finding relevant information. I use Bloglines and I can search through my feeds for specific information. I also have personally made feeds that snag any story that has certain keywords.
My problem is that as I sift through each individual feed I reread the same information over and over. Yes I know Twitter was DoS attacked last week and thus do not need to read about it in every single tech blog feed.
Therefore, this problem is not one of searching for relevant content but one of automatically grouping similar content together; whether I find it relevant or not is … well … irrelevant. I want a RSS reader that will group similar stories together into one group automatically. If I find the group interesting then I can sift through the multiple copies of the story, if not then I can toss the entire group (delete them from their respective feeds) making my individual RSS feeds that much clearer to peruse.
I put out a tweet today trying to find a service or reader that has this feature but only received information on services that “sorta” have the feature (Like Fever or Google Reader). So, striking out on my own, I have been trying to find any RSS reader that comes close to the “grouping” feature I am looking for.
Here is what I came up with. (In short I didn’t find anything but learned a lot about the types of RSS readers)
Blending, Mixing, Combining, Mashup
Those words all mean the same thing apparently (they are just as bad as interactive or engagement). Take two RSS feeds, add a dash of a keyword or two, and you get a healthy snack of a single RSS feed which takes two feeds and turns them into one. The benefit to this style of blending is that you can manage, search, filter just one feed instead of tens or hundreds. This is fine but the only way to group the items in the feed is by a human going in and filtering the feed; either by searching for a keyword in real time or by setting keywords to search before hand.
Yahoo Pipes is basically a do it yourself RSS feed creator. You blend feeds, filter them, run content analysis on them, all using Pipes’ wysiwyg graphical editor. At first glance Pipes seems like it could be the answer.
Unfortunately, it suffers from the same problem as the blending option, nothing is done automatically. Users must enter specifically which feeds they wish to group and have to modify the Pipe if they ever want to add more. Plus, Pipes’ “TermExtractor” module, the one used in the creation process to search for keywords, does not seem robust enough. The description says it finds the few important keywords in a feed item but what about URL links, pictures or embeded videos.
The other downfalls of Yahoo Pipes is that 1) it is not a reader itself and 2) in general, it is for the Techie crowd and is intimidating for someone to jump into and start creating feeds.
My search continues.
Next I found a couple of downloadable products that do not help with the sorting of feed items in general but instead sort items based on personal taste. Perseptio works similar to Digg, allowing users to state whether they like or dislike items they find in their feeds. Perseptio will then rate future stories based on that like/dislike information. It is a standalone desktop app and is free to download. I’ve installed it but I probably will not use it because I’m not really looking for stories I like, just a way to group similar stories I may like together.
Fever is another similar product but looks a hell of a lot nicer. It rates stories based on your personal rankings and by how popular a certain item is; so again, kinda like Digg. However, Fever costs $30 and must be installed on your own server space. It defiantly looks like a nice product and if you are in the market for what it is offering than I would defiantly check it out. Me, I’m still looking.
Quickly, I next came across a recent post about RSS Feeders made with Adobe AIR. Scoop and Espressoreader looked interesting as they can sync with Google Reader but again didn’t seem to have what I was looking for.
Finally, I come to Social RSS readers. These are basically sites that link users together who each have a set of RSS feeds and allow users to share information from those feeds with each other. Technically, you could call Delicious, StumbleUpon and Digg Social Readers too. But I did find one site called Streamy that I signed up for (you can check out a short video demo here).
Streamy doesn’t seem to have the grouping feature that I am looking for but I think it is on the right track. For my phantom grouping feature to work it would have to rely both on algorithmic methods of combining RSS feed items together in addition to utilizing the knowledge of my social circle. Meaning a grouping reader would need both a way to analyze the content as well as analyze the collaborative information of my friends or other users. Streamy looks like it is combining these two avenues, though is a little heavy on the collaborative/sharing side. And do I really need another “social” website that I need to maintain? I’m still going to check it out though, maybe I will switch from Bloglines.
So in the end, no I did not find a reader that grouped similar feed items together. I believe I know a thing or two about web parsing, the “semantic web” and recommendation systems but maybe it is a harder problem then it seems. I’m going to give Streamy a try but right now Bloglines is still working out for me.
Hopefully the grouping feature is just hidden somewhere out there and I have not found it. I just want that one feature but no one is giving it to me.