Matt Haughey raises a valid issue about weblog content. I’ve been thinking along this line for a while: combined feeds annoy me.
A recent trend some folks have taken to is the splicing and pasting of various pieces of content into one main RSS feed for their entire site. Services like FeedBurner (or just plain old coding skill) seem to make it easy and practical, but there’s a side effect that isn’t being discussed: the impace on the reader.
Content from all over the place can show up in one feed: daily del.icio.us links, Flickr photos, sideblog items, and now and then, even the occasional post from the site owner. A few feeds pulled from my reader showcasing this convergence in action are those of Tom Coates, Leonard Lin, or even Matt himself. (Leonard has a few additional choices without the extra content, too.)
The problem I have is quite similar to what Matt describes: when new items show up in my newsreader from people I enjoy reading, I’m often mildly disappointed when it’s simply a new camera phone image, or a couple of sparsely-described links to stuff I’ve already seen.
I’ll go one further though, and say this about the practice: it’s really damaging the signal-to-noise ratio of content I otherwise love. I have enough feeds in my list (120 at the moment) that anything on there has to work pretty hard to stay that way, from a useful-content perspective. When 7 new items pop up, that’s 7 to manually flag as read, whether I end up reading it or not. Although NNW’s Cmd + K lets me do it in chunks, make me do that extra work of unflagging items I’m not interested in enough times over the course of a week, and it might be easier for me to simply unsubscribe.
The flip side of the coin is that throwing all these items into a single feed makes for a nice appearance of continual updating. From the site owner’s perspective, days may pass between new posts, but during that time an active log of interesting links is being maintained. It’s one way to continually keep readers engaged in your content over time, but a case might be made that it’s not necessary to do that anymore. This is RSS after all, I have a number of feeds that go silent for weeks at a time, but new content always gets read and I wouldn’t even think of deleting them from my list. I’d much prefer low volume and high signal, to frequent updates with content I don’t really care about. RSS is all about making it easy to follow high- and low-volume sites alike.
There’s always room for experimentation, but I think in this case it’s a good idea to think about the reader implications a little bit more. Give me a Flickr feed, give me a del.icio.us feed, give me a main post feed. Heck, give me a combined feed of all of it too; in some cases I and others will even prefer that, just don’t make that the only option if at all possible.