The primary way that users view their RSS feeds, as made popular by Google Reader, is similar to an email inbox, with new articles listed in reverse chronological order and accumulate until the user reads them or marks them as read. Dave Winer is the original author of the RSS specification and therefore has a good perspective on how RSS is used by developers and users. In Dave’s opinion articles collected through RSS should not accumulate in an inbox but rather simply display in a web page in what he calls a River format.
News Rivers collect article headline updates and display them on a web page in reverse chronological order. To see the latest articles you simply load the page, scan the article headers, and click the articles you want to read. As new articles are collected the older article headlines are pushed lower down on the page until eventually they no longer appear.
Twitter users will find the River form of reading RSS familiar because it is basically the same way that Twitter works. New Tweets appear at the top of your timeline, and you can browse through the entire timeline or just scan the latest tweets up to a point in time such as the last hour.
When I first started to use Twitter it annoyed me that I would keep seeing the same tweets either on my phone, or when I switched between my phone or notebook computer, because I had been used to the Google Reader format. After a while I grew used to the fact that I am not going to see all tweets and most likely significant items would be retweeted ane re-appear in the timeline.
Likewise, I’ve embraced the River form of reading my RSS feeds and it’s liberating to not worry about having to frequently check my RSS feed reader so that articles don’t accumulate. I find it psychologically intimidating to open an app and see hundreds of unread articles, even if there is a way to simply mark all the articles as being read, even if I didn’t read them.
If you are one of the many people who has moved your RSS subscriptions from Google Reader to another app like Feedly, I suggest considering a fresh start on how you use RSS and consider dipping in the River just when you want to see the latest news and stop worrying about keeping up.