Reaction: The importance of diversity of sources

If you are like the rest of the world in the way you consume news, you are probably reading this because you followed a link in social media. If this is true, I have a request: set up an RSS reader, and start following technical and social content through feeds rather than exclusively through social networks. Why?

On Wednesday, Digg announced that it will be shutting down Digg Reader on March 26. The RSS reader, for me and likely many others, was a godsend after the 2013 shuttering of Google Reader. The rest of Digg is safe, rest assured, and the site gave no reason for discontinuing Digg Reader, but it’s likely as simple as “that’s not how people consume the internet anymore.”

Don’t get me wrong—I believe social media networks are important. Social media networks are a great place to keep up with people and products, with larger movements discovered by neural networks and put on your RADAR through a news feed.

But social media networks should not be the only place you learn about network engineering—or anything else of importance in your life. It is a bit like when I used to have a collection of LPs, and I still listened to the radio. I could choose between what other folks thought was “good” right now, and what I already knew I enjoyed. We seem to have gone to the far swing of the pendulum at this point, just listening to the radio and nothing else.

Again: neither end of the pendulum swing is good. Reading only feeds created by neural networks is going to leave a gaping hole in your knowledge. Reading only feeds from a list you have built is also going to leave a gaping hole in your knowledge.

The end of Digg Reader is another blow to chronological consumption of the internet. Users are curators of their internet experiences, from who they follow on Instagram to what news sources they see on Facebook, but no one is entirely responsible for what content is put in front of them. User input is selected and fed into these machines, which then decide what is laid out in feeds and when; often, that tends to be viral, salacious content. It could be incorrect. It could be entirely made up, even. That doesn’t necessarily matter to platforms.

Focusing on social media as your only news source also shapes the world in which you live. For instance, we all realize tech news is dominated by marketing. In fact, look around you and tell me about any large (or even medium) scale “show” that focuses on engineers. In my humble opinion, one reason things are this way is because we engineers have changed the way we consume news. We now consume it solely on social media, rather than reading a mix of social media driven content and individual engineers speaking their minds.

The era of blogging offered the promise of a decentralized media. Anybody could publish and comment on the news and find an audience. Guys writing in their pajamas could take down Dan Rather. We were bypassing the old media gatekeepers. And we had control over it! We posted on our own sites. We had good discussions in our own comment fields, which we moderated. … But then Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube came along and killed the blogs. —Robert Tracinski @The Federalist

This is a bit of a reminder that the web we inhabit is made by others. Can be taken away. The web is a fabric, and I thought of that yesterday while using a broom to knock some spider webs off the side of my house. The web with holes, empty spots, becomes a tattered fabric. Holes might merge to gaping voids, and then giant swaths of dead space. —Alan Levine @CogDogBlog

You want to change the world? You want to change yourself? It might not seem like it, but even the small group of folks who read this blog can make a difference by using, and promoting, a technology that means receiving information in more than one way.

Go forth, find an RSS reader, and curate a set of sources beyond your favorite social media feed.

Go forth and blog, while you are at it.

2 Comments

  1. Brian Raaen 26 March 2018 at 2:06 pm

    I still use an RSS reader to follow technical news. I used to use Google reader, but moved my feeds to feedly when Google put reader out to the pasture.

  2. Alan Levine 26 March 2018 at 9:03 pm

    I’m totally in agreement, there is a place for both ways of staying informed, but RSS is still top of my list and first place I look. In fact, when I talk to educators, I say it’s the only technology I can say with full honesty saves time.

    To be honest, Google Reader’s demise was a blow, but in retrospect, I have the same same functionality in the three readers I have used since.

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