Scott, they need a River

Scott Karp: “I tried RSS in IE7, and it highlights the true shortcoming of current RSS applications — it’s really not much of an improvement over ‘favorites’ or ‘bookmarks.'”


Scott says what I’ve been saying over and over. You need a different kind of aggregator and then you’ll get a benefit from RSS. The way most developers implement RSS, Microsoft included, they are just another form of bookmark, and not much better than visiting the site to see what’s new.

I think this happens because the developers don’t use the RSS apps themselves, they were just told by someone that it’s cool and they should do it, and the net-result is something that isn’t very useful. That, and no one studies prior art anymore. They literally don’t look at software that was shipped before.

That’s why I’m getting ready to ship NewsRiver. To set the bar back where it belongs, where it was when RSS started. To try to get the ball rolling again, in some kind of productive way.

Try it out. Here’s my aggregator. The username/password is snarky/snarky.

PS: I only praised Microsoft for respecting the simplicity of RSS, and I meant it. I didn’t say their software would be useful to anyone. I won’t use it. I won’t recommend it to anyone either. I told them this by groaning out loud much as you are when they demo’d it to me. But what are you going to do? They’re the Biggest of the Big. They know better, and it always takes them three times to get it right. However, even Multiplan 1.0 was a spreadsheet. I’m sure they looked at Visicalc before they designed it. We’ve lost some ground here, I’m afraid.

50 responses to this post.

  1. Dave, I don’t want to speak for Scott — he’s more than capable of doing that — but I think one of his complaints with RSS and aggregators in general is that they don’t help people deal with the avalanche of content out there. How does a river of news help with that? It’s just a gigantic river of content instead of a list of feeds or folders like in NewsGator or Bloglines. I’m not sure that would solve the kind of problem Scott is talking about.

  2. Matthew, there were two versions of this post, Scott commented in response to the other one, which I just deleted. Sorry but I don’t know how to merge comment threads on WP.

    The jist of his comment is that we’re in agreement. His complaint was that they’re just like bookmarks, and that they are.

    River of News doesn’t help you keep up with avalanches, but then neither does your daily newspaper. How many of us read every article in the paper? No one does. Does that make you feel guilty? No, you know you can’t do it.

    So that’s how you deal with avalanches, you let the rope slip through your hand. If you ever figure out an alternative let me know, but I’ve been thinking about this for many years, and this is what I believe is the best tool. As they say YMMV.

  3. Thanks for the quick response, Dave. I see your point, and in fact I’m a fan of the “river of news” model — but it does kind of make me feel guilty knowing there’s stuff I haven’t read. Then again, I feel that way about the newspaper too, so I guess I’m a hopeless case 🙂

  4. You gotta work on that guilt stuff. It’s not your fault there’s so much stuff vying for your attention. 🙂

  5. Posted by colin on February 2, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    It seems to me that the best of both worlds would be an application that allows you to have multiple rivers. There are a bunch of bloggers I read who post somewhat infrequently but who write articles I don’t want to miss. The biggest reason I don’t use a River of News style rss reader is that it forces me to sift through the torrent of articles that are pumped out by sites like wired and slashdot for the important ones.

    With multiple rivers at my disposal I could separate feeds into must-read and might-read sections.

    Alternatively, I’d settle for a single river of news where I could assign priorities to feeds, where articles from higher priority feeds would display before those from lower priority feeds, and ones with the same priority would sort chronologically with each other.

  6. Colin,

    You can do multiple rivers in Bloglines, and that’s how I view my subscriptions. By grouping subs into folders, you get that effect. Clicking on a folder displays all the unread articles for all the subs in that folder. Very efficient for going through a lot of subscriptions. Alternatively, you can click on the link at the top of the Bloglines subscription tree and get all unread articles for all subs in your account.


  7. I never know what to say to these guys when they tell users that they’re doing River of News when they aren’t. When they do it on their sites, in their discussion threads, I can just tune it out, but when he puts it here on my site, what do you do? I think it’s kind of rude to argue with a guest. Maybe I should just side-step it and delete his post? On the other hand, it’s pretty darned rude to come into my space and post his marketing bs as if I weren’t even here. That’s the problem with the RSS space, there’s not much collegiality here or respect. Anyway, I’ve said my piece, net-net, Mark either doesn’t understand the feature or there’s some reason he can’t implement it. After all this time it seems it must be the latter. But if he would address a question to me I could discuss it with him.

  8. Posted by Bill Rice on February 2, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    I think we are forgetting the beauty of blogging and Internet conversations. You don’t have to keep up with the “avalanche” of content. If it is important or significant and you miss it in the next few minutes, hours, days, or even weeks. If it is important the story will loop, amplify, refine, or focus over time.

    Kind of like CNN, but with out the mind numbing “no refinement” loop. I don’t tape or TIVO CNN for fear of missing something. I just flip it on and if it is important I will hear about it again.

    Point being is aggregators (I use soon to be used) Newsgator and it collects a lot of content that I don’t care about anymore. If I am on the River it will bubble with the hottest latest stuff when a topic heats up and if no one else think something that slipped by when I slept is important enough to link to or expand on then it just saved time in my busy day.

    Keep the River flowing…Thanks for the app Dave.

  9. There are only three aggregators I’ve seen that do River of News.

    1. The UserLand-derived aggregators (My.UserLand.Com, MUOTD, Radio 8 and NewsRiver).

    2. Amphetadesk, which was a pixel-for-pixel clone of the Radio aggregator.

    3. The beta of Yahoo’s new mail program (hasn’t shipped yet).

    That’s it. Those are the only three I’ve seen. If anyone claims to have one, I’d be happy to take a look. (Please post a screen shot.)

  10. I don’t think the IE7 browser-based RSS reading is the real story here. I think it’s more about the RSS platform that they are including along with it. That will let us Devs develop apps based on a centralized location where the RSS subscriptions are stored. Now that it’s going to be a de-facto standard within the OS, developers can leverage it.

  11. JW, maybe, but that kind of smells like a trunk to me. 😦

  12. Posted by Bill Davenport on February 2, 2006 at 6:27 pm

    I liked your demo Dave and think the river of news is really helpful. Although I’m a new student of the RSS space and don’t have more than a few dozen blogs I subscribe too, I’m already a bit sick of clicking folder to folder.

    One question I had was on ways to create multiple rivers of news. I’m asking the question from the perspective of an information system builder / publisher. I’m probably ignorant here but are all the rivers of news apps out there based on a grouping of publishers? Is there an effective way to index / tag RSS from a publishers perspective? For example, is there a way to index or tag an RSS post so that it has multiple tags index points. Say for example your post here is indexed by MSFT and potentially Yahoo. I’m trying to imagine how to more effectively publish RSS content so that it can be picked up in a river of news fashion but taking selective items out of different feeds. Apologies if this is a lame question!

  13. Bill, I know this may sound extreme, but I think as soon as you start thinking about multiple rivers, the whole thing breaks down and you get back to clicking and that guilty feeling that comes from things that you haven’t clicked on in weeks that are just filling up with stuff you haven’t looked at.

    If you can’t imagine sitting on the bank of more than one river, then you can’t have more than one River of News.

    Maybe I’m missing something, if someone can say what the UI should be for this, and if it’s simple as scrolling up and down, then maybe it can be done, but right now I’m pretty sure it can’t.

  14. Dave,

    Clearly I don’t understand by what you mean when you say ‘River of News’, even though I’ve read everything you’ve written about it over the years. My understanding is that a river of news is when you display all the unread items for all of your subscriptions in your aggregator, on one page, in a way in which you can just scroll through them. Is that not it? Please help me understand this.


  15. Posted by Bill Davenport on February 2, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Ok, but sticking with the single river metaphor, when you watch one river you can pick out different pieces to it. Fast moving water, an eddy here, an area with tugboats, etc. I guess what I’m talking about is ways to filter out parts of the river. So at the top level are all the feeds that produce the composite river. But underneath that are tags / indices that allow you to pick out different parts of the river, and not just by publisher. So when I look at your aggregator demo, it’s sorted descending by time. What I’m referring to is the capability for a publisher (or I suppose a user) to tag the different items and then having a capability (say a tag cloud for example) to be able to zero in on the part of the river you want to look at. I recall a post to another blog that follows yours saying he viewed all of your tech stuff but wanted to skip the opinion pieces. What I’m referring to is a way for say you to tag your pieces as opinion, tech, rss, whatever so that aggregated up in a river of news the user would have a way to pick out the part of the river they want to look at. Thanks for your time.

  16. Drupal’s aggregator is a River of News style aggregator:

    One of the reasons I chose it 🙂

  17. […] Dave Winer responds to a comment on his blog with this great advice: […]

  18. Dave,

    I’ve used your RiverOfNews in the OPML editor and I think Brent Simmons NetNewsWire does a river of news. It’s not on by default, but if you choose the “Combined” layout and select “View” -> “Show New Items Subscription”, when you click on the “new items, it shows all of the new items, sorted however you want, in the right hand pane. If I figure out how to take a screen shot on my Mac, I’ll post the url to it here.

  19. Dave, I have this odd habit of copying text that is not saved elsewhere until I’m sure it’s saved, which is what I did with my original comment that got deleted — so happened it was still in my clipboard, so I’ve pasted it in below for the record.

    Having read the subsequent comments, I’d also add — can you elaborate more on the “River of News” concept and/or point to someplace where you’ve already done so?


    Dave, amen to the observation that “developers don’t use the RSS apps themselves, they were just told by someone that it’s cool and they should do it, and the net-result is something that isn’t very useful.”

    When I’ve said before that “RSS sucks,” I should have been clearer, as I tried to be this time, that most RSS applications and implementations suck, not the underlying technology or the concept and vision of syndication. My fear has been that the unimaginative applications will give the average user the wrong impression about RSS — and that they won’t see that syndication is the path to “exactly what I want, exactly when I want it.”

    As for the tendency of applications to devolve rather than evolve, it’s that way with so many things.

    I’m eagerly awaiting NewsRiver.

  20. Here’s we go.

  21. Posted by pwb on February 2, 2006 at 8:17 pm

    River of news just totally doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried NewsRiver and others for several days at a time but can’t make it work for me. It hurts my brain. It feels like an inbox packed with spam. I much prefer to provide my mind some context and read individual authors at the same time. I keep coming back to FeedDemon (1.5, not 2.0 which has screwed up how it handles channels).

    WRT, IE7, I’m not too worried that it’s feed reading is marginal. It’s a browser after all and ideally will remain such. Feed reading has enough differences that it benefits from dedication. Keep the browser lean.

  22. Dave, I hadn’t noticed when I came back the second time that you posted the link to NewsRiver, which I just did — I like it a lot. It’s got all the elements of the “one stop shop” — and I’m assuming that I’ll be able to subscribe to NewsRiver “mixes” created by others, find the one that suits me best, then tweak it to taste. I’m eager to see a market develop for these kind of mixes. This is what the next generation of “editors” will do.

    Here’s my question — should NewsRiver be integrated into the browser or live as a standalone app?

    My problem with FeedDemon is it’s a pain to have another app besides my main web browser that gets me clicking through to web pages (and it’s a pain to open a separate app). If you’re going to periodically click out of the “river” to view the source, why not have it all in one app?

  23. Posted by Tony Hill on February 2, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    Hi Dave,

    Is google not a river of news rss reader?
    It aggregates all my feeds into one reverse chron order list….

    Assuming it is:
    While I like the River of News method of viewing my subs have way to broad an interest base and thusly subscribe to way more feeds than I can possible read. That in itself wouldn’t be a problem if I was [that french term that means I didnt really care that much] about not getting to read every single item in my river. And I’m am BUT there are a subset of my feeds which I _DO_ want to read every single item that comes from that feed. And when I use my RoN aggregator I dont feel guity when I dont have time to read every item but I do get PISSED OFF when I miss the subset of items I absolutely want to read because it is like picking a needle out of a haystack.

    Now that I have explained my problem I have two comments:
    a) Tagging feeds so that you can filter items out of the river depending on things like how much time I have to devote to catchign up on my feeds at the time, a subset of areas I feel like reading about, maybe I just want to filter out the feeds I have tagged as high volume/low value feeds, and etc sounds like a bloody good idea to me. A simple drop down combo box at the top of the river which easily allows me to alter the filtering of the river also seems like a very good solution. It requires very minimal clicking during browsing time and most often would be done just prior to starting your swim.

    b) You always talk about listenign to the users and how developers dont. But a fair number of people have made comments here (and elsewhere) to the effect that in practice this single river of news paradigm is just not working out for them but you are just sticking to it citing your years of experience. Isn’t that exactly what those developers you talk about do? So it is just starting to look a bit like you are not listening to your users here. Please dont take this as an attack. I dont see anything heinous about someone slipping up and failing to follow their own rules (as Im basically suggesting you might be doing here) on occation. I dont think this is a stoning offence so I’m not trying to stone you here. Just saying it is starting to feel hinky to me.


  24. Scott, I like that you call them “mixes” — we call them reading lists, and they’re a brand new feature. Here’s the writeup.

    And here’s a directory of reading lists.

    I’m emailing with Phil Torrone at Make Mag right now on what will likely be the definitive article on the subject. The work with podcasts too. Very powerful feature. I hope all the aggregators support them, including Bloglines. 🙂

    Now I’m not qualified to answer your question, but by placing the aggregator on a centrally located server, as I have done, I can access it wherever I am, and I don’t have to run it on my desktop. I can’t add software to the browser, so it’s not an option for me. I assume you can’t either. Right now, imho, neither Firefox or Microsoft have anything remotely adequate for my use, so it’s also moot from that standpoint.

  25. Tony, I never said I can make everyone happy and as far as I know these people aren’t using my software so they aren’t “my users.”

    I am listening, and thinking, and when people ask questions I don’t know the asnwer to you know what I do? I say I don’t know the answer. I honestly don’t know what you would have me do differently.


  26. Posted by Bill Davenport on February 2, 2006 at 9:54 pm

    Just to reiterate Tony’s comment regarding filtering, it’s not doing anything different, but just adding some controls at the top of the RON page that would allow a filter by source, categories, etc. The best would be a multi-select so you could pick multiple tags and sources simultaneously. Basically creating a mini RON on the fly based on what’s coming through. So when the RON comes up if its overwhelming or you just want to prioritize your viewing you can quickly get that filtered view. Anyway, I’m new to RSS (although I’ve built many information products) so if I’m offbase apologies ahead of time.

  27. […] Update: Praneet(in the comments) is right, of course.  I need to put descriptions on each of the criteria.  One task that’s going to be a real hassle is naming and describing the various view types.  For instance, I always felt like Gregarius and FeedLounge both have River of News views, but Dave(who coined the term) noted today that River of News is not just a merging of the feeds, chronologically, but it also means no feed list on the side.  Maybe it would help to have some 80×80 icons that appear when you mouse over the name of a view in the AggCompare edit mode and in the list mode. […]

  28. Posted by Tony Hill on February 2, 2006 at 10:43 pm

    Bill: Sounds fabulous. I’d love to see options like the abiility to see the filtered out items being shown greyed out, semi-transparent or completely removed also.

    Dave: From the wider discussion I’m seeing it doesnt look like RoN:single is going to make even the majority of people happy much less everyone (can MS use that line btw?). Also I’m kind of viewing you here as the over-developer of RSS here so in that light when you are talking about what reader paradigm is best we are all your users. If not of your software but of your creation.
    After re-reading you’re posts in this thread I think my concern was mostly related to your reply tot he first post by the guy from bloglines. Probably just the elevated level of agression in that post made your side feel a bit more unhearing or deaf-to-our-objectinos than it really was.
    So what is your reaction to my (and Bills) suggestions for the UI to add filtering by tag? You did ask…

  29. Kinja is river-of-news right? Even Rojo qualifies (I think).

  30. Posted by scobleizer on February 3, 2006 at 12:57 am

    Dave: aggregators that come into Outlook can be made to do a river-of-news thing with search folders. I don’t do that myself. I prefer your aggregator for that.

    I find that I’m using different aggregators for different things.

  31. Posted by Dave Nicholls on February 3, 2006 at 2:30 am


    I’m a Feeddemon user and, as far as I can see, it is clearly capable of being used in ‘River of News’ mode. It users a newspaper metaphor (with many newspaper styles available) to display content. A newspaper is automatically generated for each feed (if that’s what you want) or for all your feeds in one. With the browser window maximised and the folder list turned off you get a full river of news. I tend to use it with the folder list turned on (don’t newspapers have sections?) so I get all the stuff from eachfeed in one page (a tributary of news?) but that’s just my preference.

    I also use the automatic ‘mark as read’ feature to clean up each ‘tributary’ as I go through it.

    What do I get from Newsriver that I don’t get now?



  32. Posted by John Robb on February 3, 2006 at 3:29 am

    For simplicity, you could think of the “river of news” as something similar to your e-mail inbox.

    Many of the people I know let everything they get sent accumulate in the inbox. Some people I know categorize things and build rules to auto-categorize mail into folders.

    With great search tools, like the interface proposed by “Zoe” demo, the “everything in the inbox” approach seems to be the best approach. River of news really gets interesting when it arrives within a search based interface. Views can be automagically created based on saved search criteria.

  33. John, thanks for the perspective, I agree — if you base an aggregator on a River instead of having to hack one out, you probably end up with a better result.

    And after many years of debate Scoble and I have come to the understanding that there is a place for both the River approach and the mailboxes approach.

    And a disclaimer, all three of us are ex-UserLanders, we all worked together at one time. 🙂

  34. In my opinion the River of News model is one that makes absolue sense while we’re stuck in a subscription mindset. If our software insists on us making long term commitments to individual data streams then the best choice is to route those tributaries to the river.

    But as we slowly replace the notion of feed subscriptions with the concept of Feed Grazing it will make more sense to think about a River of Feeds. In an RSS everywhere world its not the individual news items which will flow by us but the actual streams themselves. It could be like sailing down the main artery of the Amazon basin. A meta river you might call it. Your boat can catch the eddies at the mouth of the individual tributaries as it moves along. It can can pass a mouth quickly or more slowly depending on how much information it wants to sample.

    I know you say Dave that you don’t favour the idea of multiple rivers but I think that’s in terms of being subscribed to feeds? The thing is its your ownOPML work which will provide the solution, along with Feed Grazers like OPod and Taskable. We just need to jettison the notion of subscription and replace it with the idea of on-demand feeds, feeds that you nibble at as you pass by.

    Its difficult for many to imagine that world right now because we tend to think in terms of RSS for NEWS reading only. But think about what it might be like a few years out when the world is full of Zibee sensors, RFID chips, GPS trackers and so on. It won’t be just bloggers who are producing RSS feeds – it will be all sorts of objects. It would make no more sense to subscribe to every feed than it is possible for us to absorb all the information in the world around us at once. But we don’t try, we scan, sample, nibble, glance and graze. We don’t subscribe. And neither will our software. IMHO.

  35. […] Dave Winer is plugging the “River of News” idea. Having been a Radio user and having set up Drupal’s feeds, I’ve seen that one, and I’ll pass. I remember back in my Radio days seeing an item I wanted to read a little later, when I had time, roll away down the page and I’d have to hunt for a long time just to find it again, and sometimes I never could find it again. […]

  36. Dave, I’ve tried (not nearly enough, I confess) the River of News concept in the OPML editor.

    I can see the benefits as opposed to the ‘mailbox’ approach, but I think it takes much more discipline to manage, as you may end up losing interesting stuff if the river becomes to fast (to keep the metaphor). Would you agree?

    That said, I think I will end up using something like this for the top ‘must-read-every-hour’ feeds, and FeedDemon for the rest (and as a backup, too, possibly keeping posts longer than I do now).

  37. […] I am using Dave Winer’s aggregator. That said, I wish Dave’s aggregator told the RSS platform when I read a post so that other RSS reading apps on thesystem (I have several) will know that I read an item already.  Filed under: RSS, Blog Stuff @ 6:50 am # […]

  38. Rawdog ( is a server-based RSS reader that presents items in RoN mode.

    I’ve used it before, but I’m now using Bloglines because of it’s awesome mobile interface.

    For personal use, I like the RoN paradigm well enough. For professional use, such as checking page changes on wikis, CVS commits, Bugzilla issues etc. a 3-pane viewer is perhaps more appropriate.

  39. Posted by pwb on February 3, 2006 at 9:10 am

    I think there’s confusion here. John Robb *likened* RoN to an email inbox (i.e., they are the same or similar). I would agree. In fact, RoN is like an inbox with a lot of spam. Which is why I don’t like RoN. A single inbox is ok for a few hundred daily items but breaks down for a few thousand, imo.

  40. “There are only three aggregators I’ve seen that do River of News.”

    I’m using Lenta ( from russian search engine from summer 2005. “Lenta” in translation means ribbon – another metaphor for river of news model. After i’ve seen it in action I left Bloglines without hezitation.

  41. Have to say that the NewsRiver view of RSS really doesn’t work for me… it’s worse than the IE7 approach.

    I want to see my RSS threads in traditional News Group Reader format


    Note the comments… is anyone linking comments to the original post for Blog RSS?

    I then might list/group these by authors or categories etc…

    And a browser approach just doesn’t do it for me… I want a icon in my system tray to tell me when or how many new items are waiting for me to read. IE7 allows me to find and subscribe to feeds as I browse, but I want to read them somwhere else… preferable Outlook with a Newsgroup Reader added!

  42. Wow! I really like your aggregator but I am sticking with the lame one from Google because I can sort it by source.

    I am using the Very Annoying IE7, but find its RSS situation to be impractical at the moment. Which of course would lead into my harping about what the heck the IE development team has been doing for the last 5 years, but one can find all that on my extremely lame blog at http:/

    There’s a lot of work ahead for the visions of Web2, but in particular it would be great to have a standards committee create a standardized RSS specification.

  43. […] Dave Winer talks about ‘River of News‘ mode of feed aggregation. Which is a great idea to fix the feed abundance problem, but has its drawbacks. ‘River of News’ model seems to be too news-centric, which is okay if you are aggregating news and blogs. Syndication is not just about news.What about syndicating a wiki, or a novel, or may be research data or online learning material, which you won’t wish to miss in the ‘conveyor-belt sushi‘. The no-brainer is to separate the two – a river and a pond. […]

  44. Looks a lot like the aggregator in Radio Userland. 😉

  45. Dave, about multiple Rivers of News… I don’t think the metaphor should be multiple *Rivers*, per se, but multiple *depths*. I rambled about this a little while back:

    What I’ve started tinkering with in my own mods to newsRIver is to filter the display by Reading List. Each Reading List is a different depth in the river. Some days, I have time to just cup a hand in the river, but other days I get the chance to wade right in.

    So, I prioritize by Reading List. Best stuff goes in the first list I read, firehose and high noise stuff goes in the last list. The list of lists forms a sort of pyramid of news.

    This is basically what I’ve been trying to do with folders in NetNewsWire, but I’d like to swap over to newsRiver.

  46. Oh yeah, and as for the UI: What I’ve got is just scrolling. The list of lists is laid out at the bottom of the page. When I get done skimming the current Reading List, I can delete. When I run out of items, there are links to other Reading Lists with which to continue on, or I can close the window and go back to other non-news life.

  47. Les, I’m very glad you’re taking advantage of the open source. Maybe you could come out with the Les-River. 🙂

  48. I wrote an essay a few days ago about ways that RSS can become one of the main things that average users rely on. I really wish that the IE 7 development team would consider the River of News concept. The current bookmarks/email-esqe feed management takes too much effort. It is easier to read a newspaper than articles stuffed in envelopes.

  49. […] Newsriver gibt es im zur Zeit nicht. Aber was nicht ist, kann über Windows Forms in .NET ja noch werden. Die RSS-API ist jedenfalls fertig. […]

  50. […] Winer calls approaches like this a “River of News.”  One of the thinks I’ve liked about Reader is that it doesn’t feel as […]

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