Sunday, 31 May, 2009

A better feed reader

Most of the feed readers - web based, desktop based are more or less similar in their approach. You subscribe to a feed, and they will display all new (or non read) items. It is good. Now this is what a feed reader should do. Some feed readers (like Google reader) go beyond this and allow you to share your favorite feeds with your friends.What more does anyone needs?

Well, there are many more ways in which a feed reader can be enhanced. I wil be talking about the one that i find most useful.

Everything is not important

I am a feed junkie. I go to any website, and if i find anything interesting, i immediately subscribe to its feed. Months later, i realise that not all posts from that website is what i actually am interested in. Let's take a scenario.Most people are subscribed to Slashdot or LifeHacker or Reddit. I am particularly interested in Programming and Technology. And specifically in Python, C++, WebApps. But what i am getting in my feeds is everything from FORTRAN to JAVA and from Microprocessors to launch of new space craft. This is useless information for me, and what i will be doing probably is - select all, mark as read. If i dont get a chance to read my feeds for a day or two, i will easilt have 1000+ posts and when bulk mark as read, i am probably going to miss out things that might be important for me.

Overcoming the situation

In my opinion, there is only one way to overcome the situation. Get the specific posts from the feeds, in which the reader is interested. So, if i am interested in Python and C++, i will be able to see and read only those feeds that have relevent information about Python and C++.
Again, there are two approaches to make this possible.

Approach 1) Let the reader speak for himself.

When a user is subscribing a new feed say "Programming", suggest him - This is a very broad category. Would you like something in particular, say C++ or Python? If he says yes, go ahead and keep this thing in memory.

Aproach 2) Find out yourself.

In this approach, the user is initially presented with all the posts corresponding to a feed. A track record is kept for the feeds that the user has actually read and for those feeds for which he has just "marked as read". Based on these data over a span of time, the system will be generating a set of keywords, which describe a range of interests for one particular user.

One or both of the above approaches can be used. What matters is that the set of keywords for the range of user's interests in posts should be accurate. This is never guaranteed to be comprehensive, but should be somewhat near to it.

Now things are quite simple. We have the feed, we have the list of posts, and we have the user's interest. For every post in the feed, scan it. See if it contains things that might interest user. Show him only those posts, that he is interested in. If the system is uncertain about a post, that can be under the "posts you might be interested in" section of the feed reader.

If implemented in this manner, i believe that feed readers can be more popular and good than the present ones.

If any engineer who is working on some feed reader is reading this post, and might consider it for their next release, i would be happy if they could contact me and say "Thanks" :-)

Make this world a better place.


  1. Have you ever tried google alerts?

  2. Gravity,
    Sure Goole Alerts is one way of doing this. But let's say i have an alert for 'President Obama' as a feed from blogs. Now, i get any blog update on this topic as soon as iut happens. There comes the bad part. Not all blog posts about this keyword i am interested in, and not all blogs i am interested in contain this keyword. So, what i am proposing is a feed reader that tracks my 'reading' and gives me the posts that i might be interested in