As more people begin to read weblogs through various newsreaders (such as NetNewsWire, Bloglines, FeedDemon, and Newsgator), I find myself wondering, What is the ideal number of blogs for one person to follow?
Here is how the process normally works. When you use a newsreader, you subscribe to the feeds of a weblog and then the software checks every hour or so for any new posts. This is great for two reasons. First, all of your favorite sites and authors are combined in one convenient spot and interesting posts can be easily flagged to read later. Second, the news is brought to you, so you don't have to visit a website every day to see if there is anything new. All in all, newsreaders make your life, well, at least your web life, much easier.
Soon after you begin using a newsreader, you'll begin subscribing to various weblogs. In fact, most software will include quite a few weblogs by default. The more you read weblogs, the more your subscription list will grow, particularly as your favorite blogs begin recommending other blogs. There is a phenomenal amount of writing available, from established news sources to independent writers of all kinds. No matter what your interest, you will find many sites worth tracking.
So, where does this lead? I have been using newsreaders for four years (since the beta release of Userland's Pike) and have subscribed to as few as 20 weblogs to over 200. Microsoft's Robert Scoble currently subscribes to over 900. How do you discover the right number for yourself?
In the past month, I have narrowed my subscription list down to 50. Not only that, I've made a personal rule that if I want to add a new site, I have to remove an old one. As my subscription list grew, I found myself wading through hundreds of good posts, leaving me little time to read and digest the great ones.
Everyone has to find that balance for themselves. If you are attempting to stay on top of an entire industry, you'll want to subscribe to as many sources as possible to be sure you're covering every angle. If you're trying to keep up with friends and family and your Netflix queue, your demands will be substantially less. Either way, I recommend that you go through your feeds at least once a month and remove those that haven't updated in a long time or are consistently marked as read after only a glance. If you never read the business section of the newspaper, the fact that it's included in your paper doesn't cost you any extra time. Each weblog subscription, on the other hand, captures precious moments of your attention whether you read the full post or not.
The reality is that the world of weblogs is inherently repetitive. The more weblogs you subscribe to, the more you'll find your newsreader filled with multiple references to the exact same article, post or site. For instance, when Apple announced the new G5 iMac, I found myself staring at 25 different links to the news. Time is more valuable than that.
Find sources that offer added value
The iMac release made me realize that I don't need multiple sites that feed me the latest headlines. I want to read sources that stay on top of a topic and provide perspective and commentary.
Rely on human aggregators
There many terrific writers who are passionate about their area of expertise and are kind of enough to track hundreds of weblogs for you. Once you find voices that you trust, rely on them to highlight the critical pieces of information you need to know. Some great examples are Scobleizer (technology and Microsoft), Political Wire (politics), Scripting News (weblogs and the web), and TidBITS (Macintosh).
This is one of the many ways that the web allows all of us to benefit from the focus and enthusiasm of dedicated individuals. The best way that you can return the favor is to find your true passion and become the human aggregator for all those who share it.