Feed reading and my desire for summaries

Most feed readers have an inbox-like user interface. The user scans through a long list of new items that, once read, are moved out of the inbox into a less visible place. In the following discussion, let's think of an individual user as the consumer, and the weblogger or journalist as the producer.

The inbox metaphor works well for supply-limited feeds. In my case, Boing Boing, my del.icio.us inbox, and Marginal Revolution are supply-limited because I would read more blog posts if they were created. I at least skim every post, and most of the time I think the post is interesting.

The inbox-style feed reader also accommodates rarely or periodically updated feeds, such as software upgrade announcements, personal friends' photoblogs, and TV bittorrents.

But this interface suffers for high-volume, demand-limited feeds, feeds where there are so many new items that I don't even want to skim them. They pile up in my feed reader until I select them all and mark them as read. In my case, that means newspaper feeds and political weblogs.

The thing mainstream news media (specifically newspapers) and political weblogs have in common is that they cover events that I ought to care about, but only occasionally do. Foreign elections, raised interest rates at the Fed, things blowing up in the Middle East, and commentary on said events are examples. Reading this kind of news is more of a chore I do so I can consider myself a responsible global citizen.

Subscribing to feeds like the NY Times, CNN, Instapundit, or The Huffingon Post is like trying to drink from a fire hose. There's too much noise. For news sites, I generally only want to read a few top stories on a given day, and all the back stories piled up. For political weblogs, there are many posts tracking ad naseum the online debate of some policy, and I only want to read the final post that sums up the discussion.

The syndicated news sources that I love come in known, small quantities: the NPR 5-minute news summary podcast and the WSJ What's News. Each news item receives about 45 seconds or 50 words in those feeds. I win because I'm not deluged in news, and if I'm interested in a topic I know where to find out more. (The content producer wins because I'm consuming at least some of their content.)

My suggestion is that blogs and news organizations that may conceivably lose readers due to the volume of their content should produce summaries of their content catered to people who only want low volume. The unfiltered HuffPo, Instapundit, Volokh, and TPM are too much, so how about 100-word hyperlinked summaries of the daily punditry?

There's a niche to be filled.

Update 6/26/06: HuffPo filled that niche with their Editor's Picks rss feed. Sweet.

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