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RSS Reading Habit

This seems to be my current RSS reading habit:

1.Sift for posts
2.Star them
3.Mark the rest as read
4.Focus on the stars

Now each step of the way probably involves more complex processes that I am able to spot or describe. I find that these steps may apply whether you tend to subscribe selectively or just one interesting post compels you to subscribe to many new bloggers for a while. I like to think that even if you subscribe to 100 feeds, it would be important to develop reading habits as if they were 1000. Scalable tools probably require scalable skills to keep up.

Now in more detail, this is how I intuitively think or explain what is going on when I am reading.

1. Sifting
It's a kind of treasure hunt. At times I want to be informed. More often than not, I want to be inspired or challenged by the ideas. Definitely sifting through posts is a skill that ranks top for me. Much more than any tool playing/tweaking ability. Why? Because I think it is the antidote to being overwhelmed by the task.

What does sifting entail? These words from Howard Rheingold explaining mindful infotention resonate with me here:
Knowing what to pay attention to is a cognitive skill that steers and focuses the technical knowledge of how to find information worth your attention. More and more, knowing where to direct your attention involves a third element, together with your own attentional discipline and use of online power tools - other people. Increasingly, most of the recommendations that make it possible to find fresh and useful signals amid the overwhelming noise of the Internet are social media - online networks that make possible social exchange and relationship. Tuning and feeding our personal learning networks is where the internal and the technological meet the social.
2. Starring
The advantage of starring is its quickness (one click, no reloading page to get it done). This quickness matches the sifting speed you get after using RSS for a while. It's a smooth decision-action cycle. Google Reader now allows you a range of instant posting features, but at this stage, classifying or deciding who and where to share it with needs a time that doesn't match the priorities involved at the sifting phase. I prefer not to shift focus and keep on spotting my selected readings for my own selfish reasons.

However, sharing within Google Reader or Twitter generally happens at this stage. Yet I think sometimes I do not stop to consider the consequences of sharing it. I may simply grab the tool at hand to satisfy my impulse to share the reading happiness; but well, you know that I do not think passion does it all. Sometimes it is wiser to stop and decide where, when and what for to share. Another drawback for me is that after microblogging it I might not blog it in more detail later. Sadly because it's a read/write web after all.

3. Mark All as Read
This is a crucial step. The prerequisite of hitting the button is keeping your inner voices quiet. Mine tend to say things like: "Maybe I missed something important". Some anxiety management might help. Drop a read-now-or-never attitude. Reading past posts is not like reading yesterday newspaper. You'll learn in your time and mode, your learning receptive time. Besides, you are not alone reading. You are doing this in a networked way. If it is important, someone will tweet it or RT it, bookmark it with a tag you have subscribed to and content will come back to you. So the antidote is being networked and staying tuned.

Reading it all or feeding yourself less to avoid choking is not a valid alternative for me. That is the old way. The new way is perfecting steps 1 and 2. We have all at some point posted our dissatisfaction about the unread feeds on Twitter. What to do? Stop needing to catch up so much. Expect cross postings and repeated information. Accept not to have the satisfaction of the task completely done. This also involves giving up illusions of knowledge waiting somewhere for you to discover and seize. Who cares what you haven't read? The blogosphere is less for that post you haven't written.

So far for what and how I read. Now it's the turn to explain when and where I could read.

Steps 1, 2 and 3 could well be done in any place -bus ride, airport waiting time or the quiet of your home. I feel it is possible to go through them in a multitasking mode full of interruptions. Periods of short attention span are enough.

4. Focusing on the stars
Beware the stars. I've discovered that to read certain bloggers I need time enough to draft something quickly before their thinking puzzles or thrills me beyond articulation. Sometimes it is good to jot down notes before finishing reading the post. Even if you are not going to publish that yet or ever. Writing to me is a way of keeping track of the way I think, not just the resulting ideas.

When your aim is reflection, the reading skills involved entail the time they require, not necessarily the time you have. The context of the blogger I am reading is generally completely different from my own. Personally I choose to find a quiet hour. (Lucky me when I do.) A hour far from the quick sifting moments that leave me as if I have been running a race. I need a shift of pace. Another mind wave to go into enjoyable learning mode. A quiet moment with perspective. Simply stop. Allow myself to be inspired at the site of a blank post in the editor. For that, I may close my eyes to recreate the feeling of being in my home family garden. I might even succeed seeing this picture of a tweet by @bgblogging (11:49 AM Sep 4th). Try it yourself.
From words to images and words again. Write. Post.


Paying attention, having time, overwhelming effect management are intertwined concepts. You need all three functioning fluently to profit from online learning experiences. You also need powerful tools. As the tools evolve facilitating the tweaking that pipes content to you, my four steps today will be a thing of the past soon. Understanding how we pay attention and manage overload will always be the poser.

This is a related post about how I read in 2007. Let's see how I am reading in a years' time.





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