Web Reading Goes Full Circle

In the early days of the Internet, if you wanted to read a web page, you had to go to that site. If there were updates, you needed to check it manually as often as you wanted to know it was updated by visiting in your web browser. If there wasn’t an update…too bad, try again later.

As the web matured, we developed feeds and the corresponding feed readers which allowed fans and readers to automate checking for updates, as well as aggregate multiple web sites together in the same chain of articles. Instead of having to constantly check dozens of different web pages, suddenly you open your feed reader application or Google Reader, and everything is presented to you in one screen. The feed reader knows to check on an interval, and the web pages all know to provide their updates in machine-readable, ready to aggregate form. The transition from manual browsing to automated browsing happened right around the time social networking started to be invented.

The “real-time web”, comprising of social networking users real time updates, didn’t come out until a few years later. Twitter embodies the real-time web, but there are other services out there. The trouble with these mediums is that they’re too fast for a feed reader to keep up with: using a feed reader to attempt to keep track of a Twitter feed can work, but you stand as good of a chance as missing something important as you do at catching it. I’ve learned about musical artists having surprise shows…the morning after the show happened, or even worse, the same day but after they’d already played. All because feeds don’t update quickly enough to be used real-time.

In order to counter this trend, I’ve had to switch back to more manual, interactive browsing. I have to go to an actual page a couple of times a day to see what’s happening, or I’ll miss out. We’re right back where we were in the ’90s and first part of the 2000s. And I don’t like it: I don’t want to ever have to visit a web site to receive that web site’s content, for any reason.

Being forced to visit a web site and view someone else’s styles removes the control over my user experience from my hands. Feed readers bring that control to, placing the content in an application I control. The real-time web and social media wrestle the control of the user experience back from the reader and place it in the hands of the content publisher. Great for media moguls…bad for users.

Is there a way to reconcile the slow pace of feed-driven updates and static posts with the fast-paced, immediate nature of social media?

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