Using RSS to stay informed about a post

We have RSS to follow posts. And more advanced systems have ways to track followups over RSS too.

But so far there seem to be no ways to actually stay informed. To integrate both, and to get the real value, to get the 'whats happening' for "things". Most of all we should be able to follow updates and comments on sites. This -again- is not the same as subscribing to an RSS feed for a certain post. It is about tracking the discussion, the original posts, the discussions that spin-off on peoples own sites and the comments on certain, undefined, posts. Often a comment makes an origninal post gain its actual value. Often a followup on someone else's blog or website gets a real momentum going.

So far no RSS reader that manages to combine feeds for posts and their followups into actual 'updated' posts is 'out there'. Nor are there any feed-deliverers that manage to bring this in a proper way to users.

Updating a feed-item in a feed, every time a comment is posted, is not 'delivering value', by the way. That is merely bad design. It is considered annoying to have fifteen times the same item in a feed in a reader. In fact: most readers have complex algorythms to avoid this thing, built into their core.

Most probably, the S for Simple in RSS has prevented developers from bringing a real solution for this to the world.

People whom are into Drupal development know that tracking issues in the Drupal bug system is a PIABS. And that solving it is almost inpossible, and that all the effort that has gone into that leans toward mail. One gets some issue updates by mail, but apparantly random issues never reach your inbox.

When we look at RSS solutions for this, all we can conclude is that the RSS feeds for issues have disgraceful titles and lack descriptions, and that they actually require per-module, per-issue subscriptions.

Also people whom are reading a lot of blogs, need to subscribe to a new RSS feed, for each and every post they read, in order to stay informed about the 'crowds discussion' on that issue. In short: RSS is too simple.

Fallback to mail? Maybe. But mail is getting ancient and is showing its limits too, since years already. Yet, somehow mail still has the simplest way to get your updates to people. If ever you get trough the spam filters, that is. And spam is the greatest thread to mail, and therefore the number one reason one really does not want to get involved in that sakepit right now.

In general, there are two ways to get content to people: push and pull. Pull means: people who are looking for it find it and are happy. Push means: people who need get notified that its there and are happy. Anything else is annoying, and probably spam. Or else will be considered that very soon.

RSS promises to be the followup for mail: it pushes content, without being too spammy. But right now RSS has a few downsides, the one touched here is the main one: it does not allow real following up of a "thing". Is there a solution to follow the real "stuff"? To stay informed about all the changes on a wiki(pedia entry) or to stay informed about all discussion aout an interesting Blog post with all its spin-offs? Is there a way to stay in-the-loop when it comes to follow-ups and elsewhere-continued discussions on the web?I guess the answer is no, no and no. But I think when we really want a distributed, self-owned web, that is what we need to put our development time into. Not? Did I miss any projects, websites or plugins?

About the author: Bèr Kessels is an experienced webdeveloper with a great passion for technology and Open Source. A golden combination to implement that technology in a good and efficient way. Follow @berkes on Twitter. Or read more about Bèr.

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