I remember one of my favorite sources for consuming worldly information was the newspaper. I started reading free subway handouts of AM New York for my morning commute to Bronx Science. Whenever I could afford, I purchased the New York Times or Wall Street Journal and awkwardly held a large broadsheet on a crowded subway train, gleaning at the crisp typography and in-depth articles with my favorite articles in the Op-Eds, a collection of intelligent discourse and writing at its finest. The newspaper was my gateway drug to my world.
It was the internet that had me hooked on news discovery. The sheer wealth of information you could find – unique, on-demand, and available all the time – was mesmerizing. NY Times and CNN became regular bookmark smashers. They were complimented with access to Wikipedia and online dictionaries for additional research. The internet provided new, eclectic information sources just a free click away.
My exploration of the larger curated internet began with online forums. I would scour gaming forums where I could participate in discussions about GunBound (a Korean, Worms-like MMO) and trade game tips (also cheating tactics). It was where I first came across Digg, quickly becoming my daily reading escape. Combining the forum-like experience of threaded news with individual comments as well as a karma system created an engaging platform, a community of friends collaborating on the same topics.
I increased the number of sites I kept tabs on the regular (pun intended). NYTimes grew into Slashdot, Engadget, TechCrunch, Daring Fireball, regular forum activity, and even private torrent trackers. As I started adding more websites into the mix, it became tedious to cater my attention to all of them. My browser quickly became a land mine. Even a handful of tabs could take down the browser at any time (side note: thank god for Opera, one of the few awesome, niche browsers at the time).
Just at the right time, my friend introduced me to Google Reader and the concept of RSS. I was drawn into the idea of the feed: a central repository that shows you the latest around the web. I started by adding a few of my favorite sites. I started finding new sites on Digg that I read over and over. I also noted their orange social icons representing their feeds. Adding these sites to my feed reader resulted in a ballooned but controlled news stream. It was the precursor to the Facebook feed and it remains to this day my number one way of consuming news (with social networks playing a distant second).
At my current count, I have 582 unique sources (and counting). I still have my high-quality journalism like NYTimes but have also added new leaderboards for news like Techmeme, general blogs like The Verge, singular voices like Jason Kottke, as well as eclectic sources of entertainment such as comic strips and inspirational images. It was one website, dedicated to bring the internet in a straight line for my consuming habits. RSS worked and is still working fantastically.
The best part about RSS and feed readers is the ability to curate your own stream. Whenever I come across a new website through a referral, I can quickly add them to my list to improve my repository of knowledge. I customize my own variety and introduce new levels of serendipity. It’s also the reason that today I can find new recipes for steak alongside an article about Apple’s latest products.
Fast-forward, the closing of Google Reader (and my subsequent move to Feedly) has forced me to reconsider my avenues for news. In some aspect, the golden promise of Facebook and Twitter lies in the ability of friends to share interesting news items to each other. At the beginning, I used to be fond of the Facebook feed. With its mix of interesting links by friends and status updates, I also somewhat treated it as another news source. It quickly dawned on me though, that Facebook was more like a leaderboard for who is doing cool and new things rather than talking about cool and new ideas.
While Facebook reigns as the global rolodex, Twitter is nurturing itself as an informal version of RSS interspersed with conversations. The ability to follow people and news with links to information creates an outlet where you don’t have to contribute to your own stream. You consume it as others curate it *for you*. I love the serendipity of Twitter and the instant communication and feedback from people but the inconsistency of quality and limited delivery vehicle keeps me from using it as a full-time news source.
With the advent of the mobile platform, having on-demand news when you want it, where you want, fulfills a craving for knowledge instantly. That’s why also experiment with apps like Circa which curate news sources using technology and humans (similar to Digg or Techmeme but more general) and Interesting (which curates different websites into categories for easy scanning) are starting to take off in the market. It’s also why Twitter and Facebook are pivoting in the direction of being the central source of your information flow, a next-generation television.
People are realizing that they can become more worldly without only focusing on one news source. You can develop your own case folder of interesting links and news source ensures that you have a stream of what you like and what you can learn from at all times.
The best of the future of news sharing will be the right blend of personal curation, personal bookmarks, curated links, and a strong-recommendation engine to tie it all together. It will have the open-source and universal nature of RSS to push data. It will have a simple interface for collecting and sharing interesting links. The masterpiece will be in developing the perfect feed, a grand merging of streams dedicated and designed just for you.
Welcome to your own television channel.