Tips for RSS Feeds, Yahoo Pipes, Attention, and Netvibes

Lately, I have been obsessed with RSS feeds. More accurately, I have been obsessed with all of the cool things I can do with Yahoo Pipes, AideRSS and other tools that make my consumption of RSS feeds even more efficient. There are so many great blogs, people, sites, and more that I want to read, but you can only effectively pay attention to so many things without sacrificing things like sleep in order to keep up. I designed a Top Blog Posts pipe to help me find the posts that were getting the most attention from others using AideRSS as a filter. This is a great start, but having a way to prioritize information in your feed reader can also make a huge difference. This is where Netvibes comes into the picture.

I’ve been using Netvibes since mid-2006 (I found the first reference to Netvibes on my blog back on August 11, 2006), so I hadn’t really thought much about how I read my feeds until recently. Justin was in the process of putting together some intelligence dashboards for the execs at Jive to keep up with industry news, and after he decided to use Netvibes for the dashboard, I found myself sitting down and showing him all of the cool tweaks to make it more efficient to use. He encouraged me to blog about it, so here I am! 🙂

Part of the power of Netvibes is that it is easy to use for people who are less tech savvy, yet so versatile that it can be used by real feed power users. This makes it perfect for the type of intelligence dashboards Justin has been doing. Now I’ll get on with the real purpose of this post.

Tips for using Netvibes:

  • Tabs. Start by thinking about how you want to organize your attention. This will drive how you configure your Netvibes tabs. I organize my tabs based on content areas of interest: Tech/Web 2.0, Open Source, Community, General News, and Jive. I also have a personal tab where I keep vanity feeds, personal (non-tech) friend blogs, weather widgets, etc. This really helps focus your attention on specific topics at different times of the day.
  • Adding Feeds. You can manually add feeds using the “Add Content” button. You can import your feeds into Netvibes using various methods including OPML files. You can also share tabs with friends; for example, here are a few of my tabs: community, Tech / Web 2.0, and Open Source.
  • Configuring Feeds. You don’t need to live with the default number of items showing for a feed; this can be configured for each feed by clicking the edit button. For blogs that don’t update very often, I bump them down to 3-4 items, while some of my pipes feeds filtered through AideRSS show 15 items. Using the edit button, you can also change the title, show more details (description of each post), and configure links to open in Netvibes preview or directly on the site.
  • Columns. Use columns to further organize data within each tab by clicking the down arrow on your selected tab to set the number of columns. You can configure each tab to have 1-4 columns of data, and I have found that 3-4 columns is perfect for me.
  • Organization. This gets a little tricky depending on how you view Netvibes. Assuming you rarely use Netvibes from your smart phone (I’ll talk more about this later), you might want to put the important stuff at the top of each column or organize information into various columns based on subtopics or some other scheme. You can easily drag and drop feeds all over the page to move them between columns and even between tabs. If you have a lot of feeds, it will be easier to move them around if you collapse all of the feeds by clicking the tiny black up arrow next to the settings link in the top right corner of the page (don’t worry, you can expand all the same way when you are done).
  • Mobile organization. At a recent geek get together over the holidays, Marshall Kirkpatrick was showing me the improvements they’ve made to, the mobile interface for Netvibes. I am finding it to be a great way to catch up on feed reading during the bus ride to / from work. However, after starting to use the mobile interface, I found that I needed to do a complete overhaul of the way that I use columns. The mobile interface goes through each column in sequence by completing all of column 1 from top to bottom before starting at the top of column 2 and traversing it from top to bottom. Based on this, I reorganized my feeds into sections based on importance. For example, in my tech / web 2.0 tab, I start column 1 with my Top Blog Posts pipe that filters top posts through AideRSS followed by some of the important industry feeds with frequent content (ReadWriteWeb, GigaOM, etc.), since these are usually the first things I want to read. Column 2 has blogs from industry thought leaders like Confused of Calcutta and Doc Searls, and Column 3 has blogs from tech friends, etc. As long as you keep the things that are important enough to want to read first in column 1, you should be in good shape using the mobile interface.
  • Widgets. There are thousands of really useful widgets that offer more that just feed data. These are built into Netvibes and can be found by clicking the Add Content link. You can find widgets for weather, email, IM, Digg, Flickr, Facebook, eBay, Craigslist, videos, and many more. There are also widget containers that you can use to drop a bit of code into to easily create your own custom widgets for your page.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan of Netvibes. It has some really interesting features that make it easier for me to manage large quantities of information while focusing my attention on the most important bits of data.

What did I miss? Feel free to leave some of your tips for using Netvibes in the comments!

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