The first step is admitting you have a problem

A few months ago I glanced at my Google Reader Trends page:

From your 188 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 10,075 items...

Seeing a five-digit number there frightened me a bit, especially because I am not Robert Scoble1 and staying on top of tech news is not my day job. Since then I've made three changes:

  • I'm checking Google Reader only once a week.
  • I've culled my list of subscriptions, reducing the number of items per day by about 70%.
  • For the high-volume feeds that remain, I read them in sort by magic order and don't read all of the items if I don't have time.

Just the first item, dealing with the news in batch mode, is sufficient to free up a big chunk of time (and mitigate the sensation of drowning). I still get news from other sources on a more-than-once-weekly basis— mostly, Google Buzz and email lists— and I'd like to improve the way I deal with those, too, but at this time they have far better S/N ratio and lower volume.

In my ideal world, for each feed I could turn a dial to say "show me the no-more-than-N most popular items per day for this feed". But sort by magic comes pretty close to what I want.

1 Scoble famously follows over 18,000(!) people on Twitter.


  1. Once a week! Good for you. I declared that in July, I won't check Bloglines while the sun is out.

  2. For me it's: From your 116 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 212 items

    I pretty much subscribe to any and every blog discussing emacs, c++, or python... The trick to keeping the items low is to unsubscribe from anyone who posts too frequently. Usually people who post more than once a week have low signal to noise ratio. That way I pull in lots of useful information from a wide variety of sources, but spend no more than 30 min a day at it, and my unread items stays pretty low.

    I also stay away from blogs that post fluffy opinion pieces like Coding Horror. They usually have high entertainment value, but I can't say I've ever learned anything useful from reading them.

  3. @Brendan: agreed on both counts, generally.

    However, in order to stay on top of current events, I still have a few high-volume feeds that I can plow through quickly by just reading the headlines.

    Which reminds me, one of the most valuable things I did was to stay away from Google Reader for about a month, and then to cull my subscriptions upon returning. The idea being, evaluating the SNR of a feed is tough, so it helps to do some time-averaging / increase the sample size.