Thursday, July 24, 2008

RSS -- a personal history

RSS is a technology that really allowed me to function in the broader society. After a debacle of a presidential election, I turned against the mainstream press entirely out of an instinct of self-preservation. If, flipping through television channels, I ran across network news, I had the impulse to throw things at my set. I thought no one was paying attention to the egregious things going on. I wasn't reading the paper (which really didn't do me any favors with my reporter husband). I built a Chinese wall and read Rosamunde Pilcher books to escape the here and now. All of this meant I really couldn't carry on a dinner party conversation because I was so ill-informed.

When I learned about RSS, I realized I could choose what news came to me. I could read ONLY the technology feed from the New York Times, ONLY the books feed (populist, yes, but you do need to know that stuff) from USA Today, and keep up with all the great new blogs without having to chase all over the place. Gradually, I was able to dip my toe into the greater world and fight my natural impulse towards agorophobia.

Because it's built upon lowest-common-denominatory XML (which my professor Marcella Genz, forseeing its ubiquity, promoted as the ideal container for bibliographic information in a networked envrionment), there are so many amazing things you can read via rss -- flickr tags, catalog searches, fare updates. A visit to the aggregator is intense, information mainlining.

I used to use a piece of local software, RSS Reader, as my aggregator. Except for the fact that some of our network update tended to loose my feeds, which meant I was constantly taking screen shots for very low-tech back-ups, I loved it. RSS Reader allowed you to leave the story, rather than the feed, marked stories as unread, which meant you could let the news build up for a while but still be relatively confident that you weren't missing anything. Also, you could flag a story as important with a big red exclamation mark, which was a great visual cue. I'm using Bloglines now, which is blatantly inferior, but web-based, so I can access it from more than one machine, and I didn't have to sweet-talk my local computer admin to install it. I am trying to choose my battles. But I miss RSS Reader.

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