Reading Comprehension and other controversies

Rob Lagesse doesn’t believe I actually read (or contribute to) many things that come through my RSS feeds. Or on my link blog.

First off, I’ve read everything on my link blog. Often twice. Why twice? Because I read that stuff in my feed reader (right now it’s Google Reader) and then I usually visit the item’s originating page. Why? To check on comments. Comments, I’ve learned, are often some of the most interesting things.

But, it’s interesting to have a discussion about just what is “reading” anyway.

There’s two separate styles of reading that I notice I’m in. One is a “grazing” style of reading where I’m just looking at the item and doing some quick pattern recognition on it.

Tell me, do you need to read all 600 words of a Viagra ad before you know it’s spam and before you’ll delete it? No. I don’t even need to read past the headline. My mind is very attuned to whether something is good or not right away.

Our minds are awesome pattern recognizers. After all, if I flash a picture of a tree in front of you for 1/30th of a second and then ask you what it is, you’ll answer “tree” every single time. How does your mind do that? Even our best image recognizers (er, like Riya) have trouble doing that in a lot longer than 1/30th of a second.

So, when I look at my feeds, that’s what I’m doing. Just looking and deciding whether something is interesting or not. I look at it like a quality control person on an almond line does. Where’s the good one? If I miss a couple of good ones that head toward the trash, who cares? I’d rather not let any bad ones get through this original processing.

Usually that gets it down to about 15 posts out of 100. OK, now we can read the items in more depth.

That’s when I switch from grazing mode to high comprehension mode. I read every sentence and see if it’s something I’m really interested in and if it is of high enough quality that I want to keep it around.

As to whether I’m part of the community or not, well, I only subscribe to a feed if I’m really interested in it. I have 577 feeds, all of which are high quality and usually about the tech industry.

My Google Reader right now reports:


From your 577 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 31,775 items, starred 2 items, and shared 1,696 items.

When it says I’ve read 31,775 items, that means I actually did look at those items. I usually ONLY use the “J” key and very rarely hit “Mark all as read.” Every single one of those 1,696 items was read by me, approved by me, and found interesting by me. Almost all of them are on the tech industry in some way. Very few duplicates (I hate duplicates, so if 400 bloggers are talking about the iPhone I only will post less than a handful and I actively look for the best posts).

I estimate about 30% of my items end up on TechMeme. Fewer on Digg. Although TechMeme seems to use my link blog as one of the things it learns from (it never gives credit, but invariably lately some of the things I put on my link blog pop up on TechMeme within an hour).

So, I guarantee I’ve looked at all these items.

Do you want me to take a day’s worth of items and explain why I found them interesting? I might do that as a video.

You can see some of my feed reading behavior (only the “pattern recognition” part) in my presentation from last Thursday. Just watch the first few minutes of my presentation, I show you what I was looking at in Google Reader and how I separate out the wheat from the chaff.