Clay Johnson asks for a “way to allow people I specify to add articles to my Readability list.”
Excellent. That’s a linkblog in Readability, something I’ve been asking for myself, but I haven’t gotten it yet.
And there’s a bigger disconnect in the developer world about allowing your data flows to connect with other people’s software. Too many developers are trying to recreate the RSS-o-Sphere inside little bottles, and miss that the value comes from being able to connect anything up to anything.
A couple of case studies.
1. I’ve been asking the Readability guys to allow me to shoot a link to a readable page to a feed, that I can then subscribe to in my river. This is the way I like to read. I don’t need a Read-it-Later app. I already have that problem solved. In fact a special app is no solution for me, because it’s another place I have to remember to go to, and I won’t, and I know that, so I’ll never use it. But a command that says “Shoot this to my feed” — that I would use because it plugs into my flow, my world. Where I subscribe to all my other feeds.
I think Readability is potentially a very important product, but only if they allow their output to hook up to anyone’s aggregator, and so far, they have not been willing to do that.
My river works, btw, because there’s a standard way to surface a series of links over time. It’s called RSS. This is a bus every developer whose products creates a flow of links should hook onto.
2. Over the weekend I came across a site called Fuego at Nieman Lab. It’s an aggregation of links to stories about the future of journalism. How they create the site I don’t know (but I’d like to). It has a very distinctive layout, something I imagine they’re quite proud of. Usually sites like this make you come there to get the benefit of their linkflow, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they also provide an RSS 2.0 feed. Now that’s the right way to go. It involves some amount of ego-suppression. They have a very beautiful presentation. But realisitcally, it’s just one flow among many, and the kind of people who need what they’re doing already have places to get all their news. So they allowed me to hook it up to my river, and that I did. They made the right choice, an adult choice. They could have stood their ground, and their interface would have stayed there, beautiful — and unused. Or their linkflow could be useful and their beautiful display routed-around, for some, maybe most. The choice is to be influential, or not relevant.
To Readability I say this. Go ahead and build all your own structures and UIs for flows, but also provide the “Shoot this to my feed” functionality. That way if you can’t roll over a decade or more of investment in aggregation tools by others, at least you can benefit from them. Your strength is making sense of crazy cluttered web pages. I want that in my world. I need it. But I can’t wait a decade for you to catch up with the work we’ve done in rivers, why should I. I can muddle through with the ugly web pages, but I need all the other sources of news that come to me through my river.
We all have to recognize that we don’t do everything. Even the huge companies, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook eventually learn to specialize. But the individual developers, have no choice but to work with each other. It also means you have to work with chaos — throw your feeds out there not knowing who will pick them up. That’s the magic of the web. Trust it, and it’ll work for you.