Needed: Thread Update in RSS Feed

16Aug15

I realize RSS feeds are not hugely popular. The ideas expressed here may apply in other settings as well; I relate them to RSS because that’s what I use.

Right now, I am trying to catch up on a New York Times news feed. There are 300 items to look at. I don’t have time for this. I also know that some of those items have been updated: for example, the story about a missing jetliner is outdated, because now there’s a newer Times article indicating that the jet has been found. Of those 300 items, perhaps half are no longer of much interest.

So two things need to happen. First, there needs to be a convention by which older articles are updated on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. Let’s say I’m looking at the older article about the missing jetliner. The paragraphs about search efforts should be grayed out or collapsed; they are no longer the latest news. But a paragraph expressing the feelings of a relative of someone on that flight should be retained in regular black print: later updates say nothing further about that. So if I do want the full story, I can start with the older article, having indicated my preference for outdated items to be collapsed, and I will not have to read and reread a lot of now-unimportant material.

To refine that thought, there might actually be multiple settings: I might indicate that I want the outdated stuff to be collapsed, and also the stuff that’s not outdated but is purely human interest. In that case, the paragraph about the missing relative would be collapsed too, but I might still see another paragraph, not yet updated, conveying information about that airline’s safety record.

The other thing that should happen is that related articles need to be linked in a thread. The assumption here would be that I am going to read the latest article about the jetliner. To address that, there would be a view that would arrange all previous NYT articles as subordinate to the latest one. Upon clicking the latest article as read, my settings would determine whether I want all previous jetliner articles automatically marked as read or, instead, I want to see all non-collapsed paragraphs from previous articles in that thread.

The purpose of these changes would be to streamline the task of keeping up with news. I have presented it as an RSS project, but the same sort of thing could be developed with respect to any news viewing medium, including video — if, that is, videos were modularized so that outdated portions could be automatically suppressed.

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