A river of gossip
A couple of years ago, Dave Winer posted an article in which he outlined the notion of a _ River of News_, describing the use of an RSS aggregator to simply scroll through the latest new items from many sources (or categories), all merged together in one ‘stream’. I don’t tend to use my RSS reader (the excellent NetNewsWire) in this way, preferring to browse particular sources as the fancy takes me. But this is for news, serious comment, articles etc. What about more lightweight uses? I’ve been using Facebook and Twitter for a few weeks now (I’ve actually been subscribed to Facebook for far longer, in the sense that I created an account and had a cursory look at it more than a year ago, but I’ve been actively using them recently). I’m quite persuaded of the usefulness of Twitter in terms of its functionality. What I’ve found is that I’m using Facebook in the same way. I now ignore the multitudinous applications which have been developed on Facebook’s much-vaunted Platform. But I’m still reading my friends’ status-updates, along with occasional invitation to an events. Now it turns out, as I described recently, that I can get this information from Facebook in RSS format. Twitter also allows me to subscribe to an RSS feed of the stream of posts from the people that I’m ‘following’. The only reason I’m still bothering with Facebook is that it is used by quite a few people that I care about and who aren’t using Twitter. So with both Facebook and Twitter, what I really want is to be able, from time to time, to read the gossip from my friends. I don’t want to have to really care whether they are using Facebook or Twitter (or whatever comes along next to join or usurp these). And so to Yahoo’s Pipes. It seemed to me this morning that it would be useful to be able to merge these two tributaries from Facebook and Twitter into one combined river of gossip. Of course I can approximate this by creating a group of feeds in my RSS reader. But it occurred to me that Pipes offered a neater solution. And so, using Pipes, I created a merged feed of RSS feeds from Facebook and Twitter, and then subscribed to this feed in the normal way. From realising the need, to figuring out a simple solution, to actually implementing the solution with Pipes, took less than ten minutes. If you haven’t yet had a play with Pipes, you really should give it a go. My solution is completely disposable - I have had to install nothing. It’s clear that the availability of a machine API to a service can utterly change your human experience of that service. Mike Ellis, a long term user of TechCrunch, noted his surprise at how poor its user interface was - his experience of TechCrunch had been mostly through its RSS feed. I don’t think that Facebook’s user interface is bad - I think it’s actually, objectively speaking, quite good. But I’m happy, nonetheless, that most of the attention I give to Facebook can be through an interface I have available all the time, whether online or offline - my RSS reader. When I want to tell my friends what I’m up to, or send out a general plea for help etc. I can use Facebook or Twitter’s respective websites. But when I simply want to access the river of gossip, I’m more than happy to use a tool I use all the time, my RSS reader.
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