Google Reader vs email vs social networks - why care?

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed June 21, 2013
Summary:
RSS advocates like myself insist that relying on social channels for enterprise content is mediocre at best. But how much enterprise news do you need, and how quickly do you need it? And is there a way to get it without wading through reams of over-marketed crud?

Searching the Sand
With Google Reader’s shut down imminent (July 1), journalists, curators, and RSS junkies are in full scramble mode looking for the best alternative (options here). Meantime, the tech media plods along with dismissive pieces on RSS that completely miss the point (fortunately there are happy exceptions, like Bob Warfield’s masterful What if you fired your 8 million most influential users?).

RSS is far from dead; feeds are here to stay, whether consumed in a reader or embedded in a Facebook page. It’s such a non-debatable issue that I’m not going to bother with it here. If you want to dig in, check into the comment thread from blogger Andrew Chen, who recently decided to require all his readers to subscribe to him by email, not RSS. He backed off from the requirement, as most would when the likes of Seth Godin let you know he’ll no longer be reading when you drop RSS access.

For enterprisey types, the far more important question is: what information do you need to do your job better, and how is that information best consumed?

RSS advocates like myself insist that relying on social channels for enterprise content is mediocre at best. But how much enterprise news do you need, and how quickly do you need it? And is there a way to get it without wading through reams of over-marketed crud? Example: a CRM specialist probably doesn’t need to immediately read about the Salesforce.com and SAP acquisitions the same hour they came out. If you’re an Oracle CRM expert knee deep on a project, that news can probably wait till the weekend – or maybe longer.

But understanding product roadmaps and what separates good CRM implementations from bad ones – that matters. Likewise, CIOs in charge of forging a digital strategy don’t need to watch a live stream of Adobe’s press conference announcing new cloud products. But they need to have good analysis of that content bookmarked for consumption as needed.

Breaking enterprise news is the fast food of our industry – It usually comes with entertaining quotage, hyperbolic product statements, or financial numbers that require deeper crunching than most reporters bother with.

So who needs breaking enterprise news? The enterprise investor comes to mind, or the caffienated day trader. Some of us need the news as it hits because reporters and clients call and ask for our take, and we don’t like to sound like morons. Some of us may not technically need the latest news, but like to have water cooler relevance. And hey, some news really does matter - especially if the blogger in question can parse the meaning of conflicting reports.

But there’s one thing all enterprise professionals need: context that pertains to our specialization. We need to understand the trends driving the news. We need to be better advisors, whether we are consultants or full time employees.

RSS happens to be ideal for tracking specialized context. The end of Google Reader doesn’t change that one iota. But it’s not the only option either. Email and 'social discovery' via social networks are two other options.

Some pros and cons of each:

RSS readers

pros:

  • Arguably the easiest way to consume and scour large amounts of specialized content quickly.
  • An excellent way to subscribe to individual bloggers or site-wide content, marking and/or filing pieces consumed.
  • Just about anything can be converted into an RSS feed, creating one portal for information consumption.
  • It’s easy to categorize reader feeds into relevant sections (HCM, SaaS, etc.)
  • Has a geeky outlier charm.

cons:

  • Requires time to set up and curate, not unlike maintaining a garden.
  • Easy to start off with enthusiasm, get overwhelmed with new content, and abandon ship.
  • Tough for folks with serious time constraints to set up a lean feedreader that gives them just what they want. Steeper learning curve.
  • It's getting tougher to dig out RSS feeds for some content, requires a hacker's mentality at points.

Email-based consumption

pros:

  • Appealing to the executive that is used to dealing with email.
  • Users have probably already set up email apps on all devices, including mobile.
  • Can be filtered and organized with some effort.
  • Like RSS, puts control of incoming content into your own hands.
  • Some newsletters are only available via email.

cons:

  • Can be difficult to manage large amounts of subscription content by email.
  • It's irritating to have your mobile device constantly pinged when a newsletter comes out.
  • Can be hard to configure/sign up for alerts to get the right breaking news quickly (if breaking news matters to you).
  • There’s a danger of email fatigue if all your interactions and content converge in one interface.
  • Unsubscribing from unwanted content can be a royal pain.

Social discovery

pros:

  • If you follow the right people, you will never miss a big piece of breaking enterprise news.
  • Social channels can surface stories you would not have subscribed to.
  • You can discover great new authors and blog sites via your social network.
  • Arguably the easiest way to track enterprise content without much setup (example: if you are connected to 100 enterprisey pals on LinkedIn, your LinkedIn home page will have plenty of relevant content whenever you check it).
  • Ideal for stories where you want immediate interaction with the author or other stakeholders.

cons:

  • The noise, lifestreaming, and irrelevant information factor can be aggravatingly high, making it tough to pull out the gold quickly.
  • Breaking news is easy to track, but social networks are not content meritocracies. You’ll miss content that matters (especially if you don’t log in).
  • Often the most frequently shared and/or retweeted stuff is marketing crud or vendor happy talk – the opposite of helpful context.
  • If you have 'must-read' bloggers in your field, you probably want to subscribe to them rather than leave new content notifications to chance.

Tips to keep in mind

These three ways of consuming enterprise content are not mutually exclusive. You can often mitigate the downside of one by making use of the other.

  • Example: Have a simple reader where you track your favorite ten bloggers; get the rest of your content from social channels.
  • Example 2: You prefer social networks and don’t have the time to curate your own reader. You can still get curated content via other news curators. Options for enterprise content curation include Dennis Moore (Twitter and RSS), Jarret Pazahanick (Twitter) or yours truly (Twitter newsfeed, RSS, Facebook, or daily email news digest). You also use a program like Hootsuite to compile your own small lists of Tweeters or keywords you are tracking.
  • Example 3: You like having all your content pulled into your email inbox. You subscribe to relevant blogs and newsletters, filtering them into topical folders, which takes a little while to setup but rewards you with a cleaner inbox. This allows you to dip and out of social channels like Facebook or LinkedIn solely for the purposes of interaction and curiosity; your essential news is already accounted for.
  • Example 4: You seriously can’t be bothered. You get an RSS enthusiast on your team to track relevant content and email only the blogs you should be aware of. The only risk to this scenario is the 'fish bowl', where too much content is pre-selected and you miss out on outlier views. Counter this by checking LinkedIn once a day to see what your connections are reading.

How I do it

My routine is that of an enterprise news curator (translation: obsessive).  I happen to enjoy curating news (from more than 1,000 feeds); I also have a fascination with pulling in the information we need from the noise, and tweaking it until we have 'right timed' it to fit our routines.

I have a separate email account dedicated to newsletter and private forum discussion content. I get LinkedIn and Twitter message notifications routed here also. This is my breaking news source – I usually hear about breaking news from my private contacts first. Having the separate email allows me some needed separation between content discussions, newsletters, and my main communications email inbox. I don't have many news alerts here, but I do like the Seeking Alpha email alerts for vendors and financial markets (free with sign up. Yes, some of the articles are daft, but earnings call transcripts go up quickly and the financial markets are a good source of what's new).

My newsreader (soon to switch to Feed.ly) is a combination of breaking news tracking and blogging subscriptions. I receive Google Alerts and Twitter keywords in RSS form in my newsreader, which is prioritized by relevance and organized by topic. I’ve detailed my reader approach elsewhere, but essentially I have a read/research/tag, and then 'share the best' approach.

Social networks help me to stumble on things I missed. There used to be a bunch of handy social discovery email alertss but many have gone by the wayside. I really like the still-active news.me email daily digest from Twitter and Facebook though. Hootsuite becomes important when I am at events or tracking events virtually – it’s the best way I know to track multiple event hashtags. My topically-grouped Twitter lists go in Hootsuite also.

I prefer social networks for interactions and the occasional spirited debate. That frees me up from assuming my friends will come up with the blogs I need to read. Let’s face it, they’d rather post puppy pictures and Vine clips if push comes to shove. And that’s ok by me.

Photo credit - Searching the Sand © Waddell Images - Fotolia.com