Wrestling multi-armed bandits: How do I… filter stuff from Google Reader?


For those of you who don’t know, I trip on Google Reader.

Multiple reasons. To start with, there were a lot of things I missed out on by virtue of ignorance, while at NITK. So I subscribe left right and center to anything that aggregates together information about opportunities.  And then there was this time when I wanted to improve my domain knowledge on things like Knowledge Discovery and Text Mining and Machine Learning and Data Mining and Image Processing and Software Engineering and… you get the picture, so I subscribed indiscriminately to a lot of blogs that write extensively on these topics. There was also a time during the holidays when I stumbled on a gazillion blogs, found them all wonderful, and subscribed to them all. And I feel I don’t follow movies and music fervently enough, so there are some entertainment blogs that keep me informed of things in that arena. There was a time during my professional life when I would reach office absurdly early, and there began my subscribing to quizzing blogs, so that I could get my daily dose of trivia before I began work, or during my lunch break. And political blogs. What would life be without them. There are also photoblogs and photography blogs which I subscribed to in an initial enthu, and starmark various posts to implement them whenever I can. Then there are those zillion-feeds-a-day blogs like Freakonomics or MentalFloss.

And initially, the Recommended Feeds section was a huuuuge hit with me. It gave me access to so many good feeds I might have otherwise skipped.

And shared items. Some or the other person who I follow is always jobless. And finds time to discover a million new blogs and share all the (mostly good) things they find there.

I never felt the need to prune my reading list over the past year. I had atleast an hour-long commute to work every day and found that catching up on my feeds from my mobile was the best way to spend that hour. I routinely found myself craving for more, during those times in traffic jams.

But now, I don’t obsessively compulsively refresh my Reader every few minutes… there is hardly any time for that. Right now. I find it quite a burden to bring my Unread count to zero. And the number of feeds that pile up if I don’t log in for a day or two is really, really scary. It’s only in three figures, though.

I don’t particularly like marking things as Read. Especially because the things I subscribe to are interesting, worthy of respect, even.

“Unsubscribe. Easy!”, you might say. No, it is not that easy. Now I mightn’t have time to read all that I ask for, but there will definitely come a time, say winter break, or some point in time, I KNOW, when I’ll look woefully at my empty account and wonder what used to take so much of my time. It has happened in the past.

And I did try unsubscribing from some feeds. But most of those were feeds from blogs whose owners had long quit updating, feeds from blogs of events which happened rather long back, and feeds which I generally do not find very useful.

But there’s this seemingly irrational reasoning in my head that I should read feed X because it’s good for me, it’ll help me grow as a person. And that makes me avoid unsubscribing based on like/don’t like  or goodWriting/badWriting.

So what do I want? An application that magically transfers all the information data I subscribe to and transmits it to my head. While I’m sleeping.

More (or less) realisitically, I just want some sort of a recommender system that tells me which of the two-hundred unread feeds right now do I absolutely have to read, and which ones I can safely mark as hell.Or atleast some sort of a ranking system.

And I came across this article which voiced all the concerns I had! (Through Reader, of course 🙂 ). Great, people are already on the job.

Till Google listens to that and comes up with some system like that, or until someone attempts to come up with such a system, I’m stuck with 135 feeds most of which post regularly. So what do I do?

Logik suggested crowdsourcing once. I’ll-share-good-stuff-from-TechCrunch-you-share-from-mentalFloss-and-greatBong. But is it really reliable? And how do we evolve some similar system? Any thoughts?

And I really don’t want to trim down this part of my life. Fact remains that these nice reads do definitely keep me on my toes, keep me informed, give me good fodder for conversation, are useful in many ways…. and heck, it’s convenient. It’s also nice to have something good to fall back on when you don’t have anything else to do.  All I ask is for more convenience.

PS: There might be some to whom my concerns might seem alien. “You’re a computer addict”, they might say. Heck, do I call you an ‘air addict’ or ‘water addict’, or… ‘rice addict’…. or ‘Sunday Mass addict’? If I’m on my laptop the whole day, it doesn’t mean I’m a computer ‘addict’. While I’m logged on, I’m also networking, keeping in touch with friends, reading novels, going through tutorials, looking up recipes, watching movies, making jokes, reading the news. I don’t ask you “Why are you alwaaaaaayyys standing up or sitting down?”, do I?

And no, I don’t wear glasses.

About wanderlust

just your average books-and-music person who wants to change the world.
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19 Responses to Wrestling multi-armed bandits: How do I… filter stuff from Google Reader?

  1. Karthik says:

    I’ve had the exact same problem! Hiding unread counts helped, but only a bit.

    This post from Kottke.org is quite useful, if your feeds have certain unifying threads.

    For a while, I spent my time on Reader bookmarking read-worthy posts into Instapaper, and read them on my phone while waiting for (or while I’m in) a bus. (Combined with the prioritizing described above, picking out read-worthy posts was not that hard, I would just read the first few lines of a post and decide.)

    I remember doing a few more things to throttle my feed consumption, but I’ve come to realize in the past two years that Reader is conditioning me to assimilate information in an unending stream of short bursts- and my attention span is dwindling at an alarming rate. For all the fun Reader is a source of, I find that it helps to disconnect myself from feeds for several weeks at a time.

    Also, see the cure for information overload.

    • wanderlust says:

      cure, you call it?

      i don’t find any great effect on my attention span. and i already use folders. but yeah, grouping according to ‘always’, ‘sometimes’, ‘never’ etc, might help. thanks.

  2. sg says:

    The precise reason why I don’t use Google Reader and have a loooong list in ReadItLater subscription 😐

  3. Tuna Fish says:

    Ive long give up on keeping it at zero. Heck! my unread count should be more than 10000, as feed subscriptions exceed 350 😛 The only cure is to ignore the numbers after each blog, and remove the unread count. Close the folder of what you dont read. Focus on reading by clicking on each blog and not on the all items.

  4. Kripal says:

    Going by the comments it looks like everyone faces this problem.

    My solution to it was:
    a) Prioritize. Realize what I want reader for -> I skip poems, movie reviews, book reviews when I have an insanely high unread post count. Also friend feeds are high on my reading list since they have already been screened and found to be good.

    b) Set my home page to reader -> Every time I open FF is takes me to reader and I sneak in a few reads during the day.

    c) Set aside sometime for reading on the weekends.

    Not very elegant, but after three months of 300+ unread posts I have managed to keep it to under 50 for last two weeks. 🙂

  5. Shreevatsa says:

    Learn to let go.

    Information and all that is all very fine, but if it’s taking up time and leaving you anxious, you must seriously — and honestly — consider its effects. Do you even draw a distinction between education, information, and entertainment any more? When you don’t need recreation shun it, when you don’t need information resist it, and when you need education turn away. 🙂

    Most of the things you delude yourself into thinking you “should” read because they will help you “grow as a person” won’t. Observe, measure, ruthlessly eliminate. When you’re living in the boondocks every scrap of information that comes your way may be valuable, but to live amid opportunity and settle for whatever comes by most easily — to turn towards mere habit — is boneheaded. Like all the time spent mindlessly watching Discovery Channel.

    That you should read everything that comes your way that’s deserving of your respect is bullshit. Life wasn’t meant to be spent in bestowing yawning respect on random text, two minutes at a time time. And the posts don’t care for your respect.

    Learn to accept that it’s perfectly OK if you “miss” something cute or clever because you were engaged in something fulfilling instead.

    Recognize that it is just a primitive hoarding urge, and learn to give it up.

    There is nothing unmissable. Everything truly worthwhile will last, and fall within your grasp when you need it.

    It will require a major change (“paradigm shift”, ugh) in your approach to the world, so it won’t be easy.
    Being who you are, you’ll probably still find other springs to drink shallowly from, but at least it will get you wandering.

    (Sigh, none of this is going to help, is it?)

    (I discovered that Google’s unread count stops incrementing at “1000+”. I did not find out whether it counts up to “2000+”, because it automatically marks items older than 30 days as read.)

    While I’m logged on, I’m also networking, keeping in touch with friends, reading novels, going through tutorials, looking up recipes, watching movies, making jokes, reading the news.
    If that behaviour is compulsive and gets in the way of other stuff, then it’s still an addiction, no matter what good you can find in it. (Whether having the addiction itself is fine or not is for you to then decide.)

    [Ok, I typed way too much. :p The remarks addressed to “you” above are for myself, so thanks for this post.]

      • Shreevatsa says:

        That’s it? You just give up?! 😛 No “I’m going to try it for a month to challenge my abilities as a person” or “It’s not worth the trouble because ___” or “I don’t believe your BS”?

        [Comments left at night inevitably seem inane in the mornings. But since it’s 4am again anyway…]
        [Aside: The comment nesting depth seems set very low. You know it can go up to 10, right?]

    • Logik says:

      All the non-reader-specific things were very useful, thanks.

      And I don’t read the comments on google reader, so there’s still hope.

    • Karthik says:

      This is the best piece of advice I’ve read in ages.

      In fact, it was your post from before that helped me shake off my Google reader woes.

      My uncle is fond of saying that attention is the most precious resource of today. It took me years to understand what he meant.

  6. Aditya says:

    u’ve heard of speed reading.. extrapolate to extremes in feed reading.
    also ‘list’ mode browsing helps go through high traffic feeds.

  7. Logik says:

    Aha, this is a much needed post. The reader fans are pleased 😛

    My current approach is a twitter-type short-time-span optimization for the zillion-feeds-per-day blogs.
    1. Keep the extended feed details off for all blogs.
    2. Hope/Assume/Believe that if the headline isn’t descriptive enough,
    then I don’t need to read it.
    3. If you’ve the time read the good headlined posts.
    4. If you don’t have the time currently, then star that post. that way,
    even if it’s marked read, there’s a place where it can be found again,
    without excessive searching.
    Acts as a one-level delay filter.

    Then of course, direct must-read priority for blogs/webcomics/quizblogs, which go in separate categories.

    Shared items are useful because I believe in crowdsourcing. Jobless might the derogatory usage for it. It’s more like –
    “I value your time, you value mine. Let’s search the internets.”

    • Logik says:

      I’ll be specific with my usage of that term.
      I’ll call it friend-sourcing, since the information that I get back has the social-graph relevance attached to it, some brazilian reader might not share a feed on NITK as a primitive egjample.

  8. Tuna Fish says:

    Why isnt there a search option on reader?

  9. M says:

    I say guilting about Reader is way better than unsubscribing. Or not reading.

    Also, I hate when work comes in between reading stuff.

  10. Pingback: Minestrone Soup for the Confused Soul « The NITK Numbskulls Page

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