In today’s hyper-connected world, the amount of content out there that needs to be digested on a daily basis can be very intimidating – sometimes it can be downright stressful. I don't enjoy being intimidated or stressed, so for my New Years Resolution, I set out to figure out a way to manage all of this content. Luckily, as I very quickly realized, there are tools out there that can help us stay abreast of the constant content deluge. This blog post will walk you through the steps I took to create an RSS feed reader for my primary interest: Data Visualization.
I work for Tableau, as a Data Analyst on the Tableau Public team. I spend most of my day surrounded by data, in the form of spreadsheets, workbooks, or finished dashboards. When I am not building my own visualizations, I am looking at those made by others and available for perusal on the Internet. I love how diverse data visualizations and data driven journalism can be – varied in terms of topic, style, and design. Unfortunately there is another facet of their diversity that can be quite vexing for avid digesters like me: data visualizations tend to be published on all sorts of different websites and news outlets, a diversity that is hard to manually keep tabs on.
Sure, there are the usual repositories of high-quality data-viz content like Tableau Public, fivethirtyeight, or paintbynumbers.com. But these sites are just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to data driven journalism content produced on a daily basis. So how can we stay afloat in the sea of data? Through setting up an RSS feed, that’s how.
Step 1: Picking an RSS feed app
In the middle of 2013, Google pulled the plug on its popular Google Reader application, causing disruption and position jockeying in the RSS feed market. Out of the scrum, several contenders emerged, distinguishing themselves through different areas of product focus. In this post, I will limit my exploration to apps that are free of charge. If you are a paying customer, there are even more options out there for you to peruse. However, I strongly feel that the free options are more than adequate to get the job done.
Feedly is a web-based feed reader that is my top choice for RSS feed reader. Feedly recently switched to a cloud-based service, so your account syncs across devices and platforms, a must for today’s user. Feedly also offers a lot of user customability features, so you can choose what type of layout you want (tile, list, magazine) and how you want to organize your home page. Feedly also has a dynamic explore feature, which will suggest new content for you to follow. All in all, as close to the full package as you are going to get. Feedly rocks!
Silver: The Old Reader
The Old Reader, as evidenced by its title, harkens back to a day when the internet was not as crowded and distracted as it is now, back to the time when Google Reader was still around. In fact, The Old Reader was designed to exactly imitate the original Google Reader feel and layout, incorporating some important new features to the old-school design. The most important of these is The Old Reader’s emphasis on social shareability; on this metric it is the highest rated RSS feed reader as it makes it very easy and quick to boost content out onto your social media platforms. If you are a serial sharer, this might be the reader for you.
If you are one of those people who likes to customize just about everything in your applications, then CommaFeed is the RSS feed reader for you. Through custom CSS, the look and feel of the web-app can be fully personalized for the user’s individual preferences. The out of the box design looks nearly identical to the Google Reader layout, so if you are already in love with your gmail inbox design, then there is no need for customization.
Step Two: Load up your RSS feed with content
After you have picked out your RSS feed reader, it is time to point it towards the content that you want to stay abreast of. There are a couple of different ways to do this. First, if you are simply migrating to a new reader from an old one like Google Reader, you can port your old subscriptions directly into your new app. But if, like me, you are trying to start from scratch, you need to find good blogs and sites to follow.
Luckily, instead of starting from square 1, we can jump ahead by borrowing content from luminaries out there in the data visualization community who have been kind enough to post the blogs and websites they follow. The largest and most up-to date list comes from Andy Kriebel, at VizWiz who offers his popular ‘blog roll’ as a starting point for any new data viz fan. We at Tableau also have made a viz (typical) highlighting different data viz blogs from around the world. I recommend using these two resources as a foundation for your own feed reader.
Step Three: Float on top of all the Data Visualization content that the internet has to offer - just chilling - like this guy: