In reply to Better RSS Categories by Wouter Groeneveld

Thank you Wouter for sharing your experiences and describing your feed reading process. Always interesting to gain some insights in how other people work. I’d like to add that to me, the social distance as ordering principle does not create categories. They explicitly aren’t meant to separate or as you say sort by quality. I usually get more interesting stuff from further social distances. One usually knows what ones closest ties know, so not much surprisal there. Good stuff usually comes from weak ties, which by definition are more socially remote. The social distance measure however does two other things for me. Social distance is a measure of sorts of the intensity of conversation I have with people, which underpins both of them.

One is that what I know about the context of people helps in evaluating what they write. Context is a filter, more context clarifies slants, habitual approaches etc. Where I have much less context, I need to better look at statements, sources etc. to place or evaluate the information provided. All this to me is about placing things in contextual webs of (personal) meaning, Connectivism (PDF) style, it’s how I filter.

The second is that it’s a mental map of whom I see myself as being in conversation with and at what level of intensity. So the folders (a rather poor structure, I’d rather be able to tag feeds and use that as a way to create views on the feeds) by social distance are more like spaces or locations to me. The closest circle is more like a living room setting, the furthest the public agora. When I open up my feedreader I choose what my visit to those places will be like. Is it like a walkaround to inspect the genral lay of the land, I will scroll through all, starting with the closest circles. An interesting bit is when the same things pop up at different social distances, feedback propagating lifting signals above the noise. If I only have a bit of time, I’ll only look at the closest ties, to see what they’re up to, a social call of sorts. If I am open for more surprisal and have time to take the first processing step with what I read, I’ll start furthest out. If I am open to interacting with people about topics I’m interested in, I usually start in the middle layers, where there is a more balanced mix of known context and potential for surprisal.

The problem is that social distance categories are just as arbitrary as categorizing them by genre—which most people do and I did before (“games”, “programming”, …). There is no separation in quality. Some IRL/Online friends’ blogs I have in my reader are much more interesting to me than others’. Many sites from category 4 are more interesting than most stuff in category 1.

Wouter Groeneveld

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.