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July 14, 2005

Feedmixes - multiple feeds combined into one


Feed overload!

Feed readers are an efficient way to read content from several sources, but now many of us are feeling inundated with feeds, and often don't have time to read even those we really want to prioritize.


Feedmixes: customizable "metafeeds" made by combining multiple feeds into one



Why mix feeds?  My "Elevator Pitch"

(I'm excerpting this section and using it in another article about some cool feedmixes I made and how to make them.  If that's how you got here, you can skip the bullet points below.)
  • Feedmixes are to feeds as feed readers are to blogs (and other syndicated content).  By collapsing and reducing the number of information flows we manage, feedmixes can dramatically improve the efficiency with which we consume and distribute information.
  • You don't need to read related feeds one at a time any more than you needed to visit individual sites and blogs.   You probably read more than one feed in areas like Finance, Music, Productivity, Business, Friends, etc.   Wouldn't it be convenient to read all your friends' blogs in a single feed?  Do video clips from Google or YouTube really need separate feeds?  Why not read about the latest toys from Engadget and Gizmodo in a "Gadgets" feed?  A good feed mixing service will include the source of each item in the feed, so you don't lose that information by mixing.
  • Feedmixing makes it easy to corral "loosely coupled" content, focus it, and redistribute it as an attention stream.   People tag content on blogs, news sites, social bookmarking sites, wikis, search engines, video & photography blogs, etc..  Using common tags makes it possible find all that related content, even though it exists in totally different systems.  This is considered "loosely coupled" content, and can be used by an individual, or a loosely coupled community .  Feedmixing is a tool for bringing together and redistributing content you choose from several different sites.

More Detail

A feed reader eliminates the need to manually retrieve and read several sources of information because it aggregates the information in a single place.  In a similar way, a feedix combines  multiple feeds into one, so you can reduce the number of different feeds you subscribe to.  You could create a "Must Read" summary feedmix that consists of some of the content from each of the feeds you consider most important.

When I first heard about feed readers, I didn't think I needed one.  Only after I started using one -- and entered all the different sites I regularly read -- did I see how inefficient it was to visit each individually.  When I first heard the concept of feedmixes expressed, (see credit below) I didn't think I needed them either.  Now, having tried for a while to read my 80+ feeds regularly, I see significant potential value in feedmixes as a way to address feed overload and help manage the flow of information.


Mixing feeds

Some close approximations of what I envision already exist, but I think the real value in metafeeds will be in customization, and I haven't yet seen any service that provides that.  (Update: 2007.02 - Yahoo! Pipes looks like the service I've been wishing for, and then some!) Here’s how I want to build and customize feedmixes:
  • Choose individual source feeds – I know there have been some recent services that create tag feeds (which are a kind of feedmix themselves), but there's value in being able to select specific, individual feeds, rather than all that match a particular tag, though that's useful too.
  • Specify the number of items to get from each source feed.
  • Specify the order in which the feeds are spliced - e.g., A B C, A B C, B B B, C C C, A A A, etc.  I do realize this can get complicated especially for novices but providing defaults along with the option to customize can mitigate that problem.  This is probablly best left as an advanced feature, and is likely overkill.
  • Get the results as a feed - This may seem obvious, but I've seen approximations of feedmixes that are available only as web content.

Example feedmixes

  • "Productivity" feedmixThree productivity blog feeds combined into one, with an equal number of articles from each:

  • "Friends" feedmix - Adam saves a lot of stuff into his Furl linkblog feed, so it would be nice to look at only the 5 most recent items from him when we're pressed for time.  We share a lot of interests with Beth, so let's get her entire del.icio.us feed, but Chuck is pretty prolific, so we’ll just grab the latest 10 things he's written in his blog:


Some close equivalents of feedmixes

I'm curious to know if there are any service that provides this kind of service as I've described it?  It seems like a perfect enhancement for feed readers.  I haven't tried many feed readers, and I tend to lean toward web-based readers over desktop clients, so I'm not sure if this is already a commonly implemented idea.  In any case, I haven't yet seen a service that provides much customization, and I think feedmixing is ideally suited to being a web-based service.

Here are the close equivalents of feedmixes that I’ve seen:

  • My Yahoo! – I don't prefer My Yahoo as a feed reader – nor does it presume to be a full-featured one – but one could argue that it was one of the first.  One of the reasons I liked My Yahoo! is that it does allow customization of how many items from each feed, and displays them all on a single page.  When I look at the resulting page of feeds, I see a quick summary of each of my feeds - not quite a feedmix, but close.
  • Furl's "My Headlines" – is a summary of latest items in all my Furl subscriptions, but it's not provided as a feed, and I can't customize what's included.  (Furl is not a feed reading service, so I can't really complain.)
  • Rojo's "Recent Stories from all feeds" - Close, but as far as I know, it's not customizable, and I don't believe I can subscribe to it as a feed.  In a way, this makes some sense from Rojo's perspective; one could argue this is a feature that adds value to the service.  That's fine, but I'd like to be able to customize it and be able to treat the resulting feedmix like any other feed, and not have it only available in a particluar feed reader.
  • RSS Digest's upcoming "Feed splicing" - After having this article in draft for a while, I happened to stumble on a service called RSS Digest, and I see that the upcoming new version plans to provide "Feed splicing. Mix multiple feeds into a single digest."  Great!  That’s exactly what I'm talking about.  I hope the developer will consider the value of customization when creating that capability.
  • Update: 2005.07.26 - I just heard about a service called Feedshake, which is an "RSS merger" service.  I haven't checked it out yet, but it sounds like exactly what I've been describing!
  • Update: 2006.02.09 - del.icio.us provides a way to create rudimentary feedmixes:  Using the Inbox, you can specify tags or users you want to track, and assign labels to multiple tags/users to aggregate them (e.g. subscribe to the tags "apples", "oranges", "pears" and label the subscription "Fruit").  Of course, any label you create generates a feed.  This means you could subscribe to Adam's, Beth's, and Chuck's del.icio.us feeds in your Inbox, label the subscription "Friends", and you've got a feedmix.
  • Update: 2006.03.07 - FeedBlendr looks promising!  I especially like one of the tips, which I think is a great idea: "Did you make a blend and forget an ingredient? Wanna add another feed to your blend? No problem - use the FeedBlendr URL as one of the feeds in a new blend, then just add the ones you forgot into that one as well."
  • Update: 2006.03.09 - FeedBurner as front-end for feedmixes - I see there's been some discussion about feedmixes in the FeedBurner discussion forums.  Although FeedBurner doesn't support it "natively" yet (March 2006) it can be done!
  • Enough updates, already!  Rather than continuing to manually update this list (which will probably become irrelevant soon, since this idea seems to be catching on), I'll just refer you to my lists of feedmixing services and feedmixing examples at del.icio.us, since they will get updated as I find new ones.


Credit for the idea, and a very close equivalent

Jon Aquino has written a "Bloglines Splicer" that begins to implement this idea, using the feed reader Bloglines.  I haven't actually checked it out, but after reading his description, I see he's got a similar idea in mind.  In fact, I credit him with giving me the idea for feedmixs, even though when I first read what Jon said about it, the idea didn't really register with me.  It was only since I started subscribing to more and more feeds that I've started to realize this is what I want.  Thanks, Jon, for helping me to articulate the problem as well as a good idea for helping to solve it!