A screencast about common feeds in Vista

Today’s 4-minute screencast, which explores Vista’s common feed system, serves multiple purposes. First, I wanted to familiarize myself with this stuff, and do so in a way that would elicit responses that help me understand how other folks are reacting to it. I am intensely interested in the reasons why people do or don’t take to the notion of reading RSS feeds. Mostly, as we know, they haven’t.

The assumption is that surfacing the concepts more prominently in the OS will help, and I think that’s true, but there’s a lot going on here. For example, even just explaining to people how feeds are like-but-unlike email is a huge challenge. When you start from the perspective of reading feeds versus reading email, it’s hard to see the difference. One key distinction — that feeds are by-invitation-only and can be easily and effectively shut down, versus email which is uninvited and can be very hard to deflect — is fairly abstract and hasn’t sunk in yet for most people.

When you start from the perspective of writing feeds versus writing email, the differences, and the benefits that flow from those differences, are even more compelling — at least to me. But the reasons why are even more abstract: manufactured serendipity, maximization of scope, awareness networking. How might Vista, or any desktop operating system, help surface these concepts?

I also made this screencast to find out what it’s like to make screencasts of Vista. I haven’t yet installed Camtasia on my newly-acquired Vaio laptop, because I want to repave that machine with a final version of Vista that I don’t have yet. But no worries, there’s always good old Windows Media Encoder. I’ve always said it’s an underappreciated jewel, and evidently that’s still true as it is not inclulded in Vista.

After capturing with Windows Media Encoder I transferred the file to my XP box for editing in Camtasia. As always, the process reminded me of Pascal’s famous quote: “If I had time, I would write a shorter letter.” Boiling a screencast down to its essence is really hard. One of the biggest challenges is meshing the video footage with the audio narration. I want to produce a series of screencasts that illustrate this process, but I’m not sure how best to separate out the kinds of general principles I outlined here from details of specific applications and delivery formats.

A couple of final points about the RSS features shown in the screencast. It shows how to acquire feeds one at a time into the common pool using IE, and how to acquire batches of feeds into Outlook by importing an OPML file, but there’s no obvious way to load a batch from OPML into the common pool. I know I could write that app, but is there one lying around somewhere that I’ve missed? Also, how do you batch-delete feeds from Outlook once you’ve acquired them via OPML?


  1. my impression is that many people don’t *want* more ways for computers to invade their mental space. they are perfectly happy visiting a website when they want information on XYZ topic, and don’t want that info pushed to them any more than that. RSS is a great way to streamline and increase targeted info delivery, but that’s not the problem most people have with computers. most people want to spend less time staring at their screens, and the last thing they want is more reasons (eg interesting content) to stay chained to their machines, rather than doing the other things they might want to do.

    as an info junkie, trying unsuccessfully to kick the habit, I can sympathize. I have started pruning my RSS reading down to bare essentials… mainly friends I see on a regular basis.

    so maybe this is part of the mysterious reason why RSS isn’t mainstream: it solves a problem only certain people have, which is how to increase the info delivery from the net. Many people seem to want to decrease info delivery …

    and while RSS is by invitation in theory, it is also very invasive, because it constantly delivers information to your desktop or browser, whether you want it or not. That is, it is extremely distracting.

  2. The sound playback doesn’t work on Linux for me, the sound is really static-y. All your previous screencasts worked fine, though.

  3. I think a counter argument to this might be made. RSS increases your mental space by allowing you to bypass “going to each site to see what’s new.” My friend (also an information junkie) will read 2-3 online newspapers, going to each site along the way.

    Although savvy (she worked on an SGML publishing engine back in the day), she does not see the benefits of RSS warrant YAUP (yet another username / password or desktop aggregator install).

    And there is also the argument that “you stumble on newspaper article” that wouldn’t appear in your feeds by browsing the newspaper sites directly and therefore enrich your periphery knowledge.

  4. “it solves a problem only certain people have, which is how to increase the info delivery from the net. Many people seem to want to decrease info delivery”

    True, and here’s why. Over the past decade we’ve opened up a whole flock of new communication modes that human beings lived without for ten thousand years. Eventually we’ll come to understand them as natural extensions to what we’ve always done, but that’s not how it feels now. The new communication environment seems (and is) highly artificial and contrived, and colonizing it feels like (and is) hard work for uncertain reward.

    When this stuff works well for me, though, it works in terms of metaphors that make sense to everyone. Blogging is storytelling, and we can all relate to the value of narrative. Feed-reading is like listening to a bunch of conversations at a party. You can’t hear everything at once, and you wouldn’t want to, but when you tune into certain conversations you simultaneously form relationships and acquire informational filters.

    It’s all very natural, really, but it’s hard to convey how and why that’s so. And of course you’re right, in an environment so dominated by the need to deflect demands for attention and noisy low-value interaction, it’s hard to notice strategies that enhance voluntary attention and thoughtful high-value interaction.

  5. I’m an extensive user of RSS feeds, over 800 feeds now. I need this information for my work. First I was a beta tester for Windows Live, for a while it worked. Then I began to use Internet explorer 7 for my feeds. After that I started using Outlook 2007. I like the idea of RSS, just screen the headlines, whenever you want. Now the problems:
    1. Windows Live, it is not visible when there is a new post in the feed, I want to see a highlighted entry
    2. Internet Explorer 7, I can see the new posts because the feed is highlighted, but… I’m not able to categorize my feeds
    3. Outlook 2007, better than Windows Live and IE, It lets me categorize, and what I also like, it lets me create a new folder where I can drop all posts that I mark as important, of mark as unread.
    (4) UniveRSS, the 3D RSS aggregator for Windows Vista, it is cool! but not suitable for my needs.
    (5) the RSS sidebar gadget, looks nice, but with so many, frequently updated RSS feeds I have, it is nothing more than a gadget, it adds no value for me.
    Now the bad news, I want to be able to view only the feeds with an unread post, and I want to check my feeds wherever I am, without my personal laptop.
    I disagree with Hugh for now. When I show people the benefits of RSS, and show them Windows Live, IE 7.0 and Outlook 2007, a couple of days after that te come along to show me what they have created in Windows Live, the list of feeds they added in IE 7 or the OPML files they imported in Outlook. I have to say, those people are colleagues or customers and mainly the so called information workers.
    Finally, I’m a Microsoft adept, where possible I use the products and customize it for my needs. But sometimes, i need some 3rd party tools, tools that I don’t advice to my customers and colleagues (sorry but Google reader suits my needs) I hope, in the not so far future, Microsoft will deliver a tool where I can work with

  6. [Responding to the video, not the post]

    I think the separate pools or repositories of feeds might be a feature not a bug. I don’t want to read all my feeds in every tool I use — I’d like to choose tactically what feeds I see in a variety of readers. If I’m receiving administration/monitoring/work related info via RSS/Atom, I might want that to flow into my work in box or a desk-top gadget. My personal feeds should probably live outside the firewall and corporate computing resources.

    There might be some overlap between my feed lists, though, and a synchronization system that tracks the feed items I read between readers would be nice. I think the NewsGator folks offer that service amongst their tools??

  7. Jon, when you say “I am intensely interested in the reasons why people do or don’t take to the notion of reading RSS feeds” what exactly do you mean? With an RSS reader, or using an RSS-to-email forwarder like [1]? For me, I almost never make to read my FeedDemon because I get so buried with email in my inbox, and when I do open FeedDemon I don’t know where to start.

    But for feeds I really want to read, like yours, I use [1] to get them to show up in my email inbox where I’ll be sure to see them. Of course, I can’t read many this way so consider your blog special. :)

    [1] http://www.rssfwd.com

  8. I think the screencast is great but the one thing that I did not like is the idea that the OS should manage all my feeds. This seems like overkill to me and more an MS attempt to take something that should not be at the OS level and attempt to make it so. The concept of having one spot to go to on an OS for all your feeds is interesting but I am not sure I trust the implementation… I am being paranoid I guess.

  9. “I think the screencast is great but the one thing that I did not like is the idea that the OS should manage all my feeds.”

    In fact it doesn’t have to. As is shown in the screencast, Outlook can either use the common feed system or manage its own feeds separately.

  10. Your screencast about “common feeds in Vista” is great, but would be greater if OutLook 2007 was included in Vista Home Premium and not a $400 extra. How about discussing what can be done with feeds using just the OEM VHP on a typical new machine?

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