Im a tech guy, and Ive always been fascinated by new technologies—from my very first Texas Instruments computer, which let me save programs to a tape recorder, to my current obsession with Apples GarageBand.
However, while my enthusiasm for some technologies remains strong, my initial fascination quickly turns to apathy—if not downright hostility—for others. Two good examples are instant messaging and cell phones.
Im not exactly hostile toward cell phones. I just wish people used their phones the way I do. To me, a cell phone is a convenience—helpful for meeting up with people, car emergencies and travel. My friends often joke that they dont know why I bother to have a cell phone because I never turn it on. But there are many times when Id just rather not be bothered by phone calls.
Stronger is my dislike for instant messaging. I know this makes me look like a crotchety old Luddite to the current generation of kids, who use IM much more than they use e-mail, but, to me, IM combines all the worst elements of phone calls and e-mails while providing very few of their benefits.
IMs often come at inopportune times, they are harder to end than a phone call, and they cant be put off as easily as an e-mail. I know you can configure your IM client to reduce some of these hassles, but, after many trials at configuring IM, Ive found only one configuration that truly works for me—turning it off.
Now another cool, trendy, wave-of-the-future technology that I once found compelling is leaving me cold and disinterested—namely, RSS feeds. Im not a latecomer to RSS feeds; Ive been using them since they first came out, and Ive tried very hard to maintain my enthusiasm for them. Ive used open-source feed reader clients; Ive had feeds delivered to my e-mail box; Ive used the Live Bookmarks in Firefox; and Ive used syndication Web sites to control my feed subscriptions.
But after years of really trying to like RSS feeds, Im finally waving the white flag. This is another technology that just isnt for me. (And, yes, I realize that some of you are reading this column after receiving it through an RSS feed.)
As I do with IM and cell phones, I think part of the problem is that feeds— while empowering in some ways—also remove some of the users independence. Once subscribed to a feed, you just keep getting it, whether you want that days info or not. No matter how I get the feeds delivered, they eventually become noise on my desktop or even an actual nuisance that Id rather not deal with. Feeds delivered through e-mail clients are the worst, as they eventually become associated with other e-mail nuisances, such as spam.
My adventures in RSS feeds have succeeded in making me really appreciate Web browsing. Ive decided I much prefer to go to Web sites and blogs to see if theres new information I want to read that day. I just feel as if I have a lot more control that way, and, using the grouped bookmarks features in Mozilla and Firefox, I can quickly look at multiple similar sites.
Basically, it comes down to a philosophical difference: Im the type of person who would rather seek out information than have it delivered to me.
But that doesnt mean Im completely down on RSS. Beyond delivering blogs and news headlines, RSS holds much promise in delivering other types of content—from podcasts to applications—and developers are innovating other programmatic uses of RSS.
However, RSS is at a crossroads, and it isnt just because Microsoft has started calling the technology “Web feeds” in Internet Explorer 7. Some are concerned that Microsoft will attempt a classic embrace-and-extend strategy to take over RSS and convert it into a “works different on Microsoft” standard. Or maybe the fact that Microsoft is finally paying attention means that RSS has jumped the shark and is losing relevance.
I think that RSS is here to stay and that its uses will continue to expand across the Internet. But unless someone out there has some ideas about how I could use it better, one place it wont be found is on my desktop delivering news and blogs.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.