Friday, September 19, 2008

In Praise of Feed Demon

Feed Demon is an unfortunate name for an outstanding Information Management Tool. It's being sold (free download) as a personal organizer for RSS feeds. What it does really is create a pond of edible fish from an oceanful of loosely connected firehoses.

The key is to expand your comfort zone around what's RSS-enabled on the web and what's plain .html. It's easy enough to skim the Google ocean floor for appearances of RSS in URLs or the news sections of .com sites. Certainly acquainting your news queries with feeds and steering away from email alerts is a step in this direction.

What's there to prevent a warm fuzzy around RSS feeds? Lots of feeds (including blogs) have pre-defined defaults that push users toward one reader or another. The trick is to isolate the plain vanilla XML without the wrapper so you can feed your local copy of Feed Demon without hiccups, pop-ups, or passwords.

The difference between querying a search tool and a feed reader is the difference between rolling the dice and staying on top of what you need to know. Anyone with a pile-on of automated emails knows how tedious and time-consuming it is to dig out from under a pile of alerts.

There's no way to overlay your own need-to-know priorities around screaming urgencies or passing fancies. Every alert looks like a priority -- until you open it. Yes, you can create multiple email accounts but then you've opened up another receptacle without reducing the garbage piling up in your in-box.

One of the other unsold factors about RSS Readers is that the very term presumes you actually have the time to plow through the thousands of hits that will find their way into your reader. You don't. The information is waiting for you but it won't burn a hole in your pocket if you fight off the temptation to be on top of everything at once. First take a deep breath. Now replenish your feeds without acknowledging every update that lands within your reach.

Okay. So now I'm going to gush about the pond factor as it relates to catchable fish in Feed Demon:

First of all when you're about to freak out because your pond is threatening to become the size of a toxic, unswimmable lake you can press the anxiety button and any article over the prescribed limit will be marked as "read" -- that doesn't mean it goes away. You can still search it. You can even create automated filters that channel keywords into specific feeds and folders. It simply won't be considered fresh or new.

The search component works two ways: (1) you can search ad hoc among the thousands of feeds -- imminently preferable to doing the same among 8 billion pages indexed on Google. (2) you can set up filters in anticipation of hot topics you need to pulse (usually exact matches for a person or small entity within a larger group).

The folder concept is nothing unique. But folder designations are important for organizing the types of content that spans the feed streams. For instance it's one thing to use a To-Do list schema: gotta get a job, gotta push out a blog post based on what's latest, great. It's quite another to organize according to how the feed finds its way in: is it a series of job postings? Latest slew of news articles? Twitterings from top-of-mind text strings?

To pretend that these vastly different forms are all part of the same content soup is to conceed an important advantage of Feed Demon. Knowing who generates content and who it's intended for is the single most important attribute for understanding the context of any feed, regardless of the facts, views expressed, and the form for doing so. That understanding is what we're losing with the disappearance of traditional media. One way to reclaim this is to set up your folders according to media types be they newspapers, jobsites, blogs, social nets, etc.

I guess one aspect of Feed Demon that is more a solid feature than a best practice is the Dinosaur report that lists subscriptions which haven't been updated in the past 30 days. It's helpful to combine this feature with the "Find New Feeds" option that indexes a collective grouping of feeds among Feed Demon users. Sometimes this is helpful for determining correct terms and tags surrounding topics of interest. Other times it's more a distraction -- particulary when the feed remains turned on but the lights are out -- the feed's dried up.

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.