The first time I used Unix on a real machine, it was AIX on an RS/6000. A computer science student in the year above me (I'd sign up to start my course the next day) took pity on me as I sat around waiting for term to start, logged in on the terminal next to his, and ran tin(1) or maybe tass(1) given how long ago it was, and suggested I "read news".
In my day, you see, HTTP wasn't exactly widespread. It would be a few months before I saw my first web page. (That would be on some of the few computers fancy enough to have graphics. And color.)
There were no RSS feeds, and there were no blogs. But there was another form of vanity publishing, and it was called USENET news. For a year or so, I read quite a lot. It seemed at the time like all of a sudden I had access to all kinds of people with all kinds of interesting knowledge. Especially stuff relating to computers.
Sooner or later, though, I realized that it was mostly crap. There were too many pointless pissing contests. (I should know, I took part in my share.) Too much name-calling. Too much repetition. Too many people asking the same questions. Too many people providing wrong/poor answers. It still seemed like a pretty good means of distributing porn, though, but the web was about to come along and do a much better job of that (and ruin the popularity of my scripts for collecting, collating, unsegmenting and uudecoding USENET porn automatically).
(The most visible short-term effect of the web I remember is that you couldn't get on a machine with a 3.5" disk drive because they were the only way to take porn out of the room, and transfer to 3.5" disk was insanely slow.)
Anyway, I've seen no point to reading USENET for about a decade now. I don't know (or care) if it even continues to exist.
Never one to learn from mistakes, when I came across RSS feeds, I thought all of a sudden I had access to all kinds of people with all kinds of interesting knowledge. Especially stuff relating to computers.
RSS came at a good time for me. There was a gap in my life opened by leaving Switzerland and no longer waking up to DRS-2's morning news. I'd long loathed England's Radio 4 morning news, and never did bother to tune my radio for the years I lived there. If it were a satirical short film, where pretend presenters try to get pretend politicians to say something they shouldn't while the pretend politicians try to say whatever they'd prepared, it might be funny. As "news" or "discussion", it was tiresome. And it was embarrassing to hear them on days when Science or Nature had something that sounded "newsworthy". "So," they'd ask the scientist who presumably knew this was going to be idiotic but wanted to be able to mention national radio appearances on their CV, "what do these new Hubble images tell us about God?". Or "So, elephants can talk?". (I may be paraphrasing, but I'm not making either of these up. And this is from one of England's better-quality sources.)
The newspapers, deprived of the opportunity for radio's over-aggressive live "interviews", were somewhat better, but still a mixture of "stuff you've heard before, with a few names/numbers/places changed" and "stuff the writer didn't understand". There are only so many bad science/technology articles you can read before you start to question the quality of the stuff you don't know anything about.
I won't even mention TV. I can feel it sucking the intelligence out of me. It almost manages to sap my will to live.
I'm just about getting to the point of admitting that most blogs are mostly crap. Not as bad as Slashdot, maybe, but about as bad as The Register. If a little less funny.
In particular, I've been unsubscribing left, right, and center lately. In part it's consolidation. "Planet JDK" is more convenient (and complete) than having a bunch of random Sun developers' blogs. But there just aren't that many feeds whose contents really interest me. The similarly-titled "Planet Classpath", for example, seems mainly about proponents of free software congratulating themselves for still not being as good as Sun's free software. Tom Tromey's posts are usually interesting, but the rest aren't worth the bits they're printed on. And Tromey's feed's broken, so I can't subscribe to him alone.
Then there are the dead sites, like fokelore.org. It was interesting when it was still a going concern, but there's been but one post all year, and there's no reason to expect many more. (That's one connection per hour from my copy of NetNewsWire they're having to service, and for what? How much pointless traffic are they having to deal with?)
And, without wanting to name names, there are all the bloody narcissists. Yes, I realize this is just a modern form of vanity publishing, and I realize that this very post could be considered an example of what I'm complaining about, but there's way too much personal crap for my liking. I don't want to see pictures of your pet or your child. I don't care if you/your wife/your child has toothache/is dying/died. I don't know you, so unless you can write like Hemingway, why should I care? You are not interesting in your own right. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.
And you wouldn't come to my wife's funeral, you heartless bastard, so screw you!
I have a friend amongst the people who might come to my wife's funeral, who complains that my blog isn't personal enough, but I think it's too personal a lot of the time. Like now, for instance. If I were reading this, I'd be waiting for the next snippet of code, the next bit of information about a bug, or the next work-around.
Maybe I'm missing the RSS equivalent of porn distribution, but I'm not sure I can see my parents ever wanting RSS. There was never any doubt in my mind they'd want email, the web, widescreen displays, and Tivo. I have no doubt they'll want "wireless broadband" as soon as they understand and consider it affordable. But RSS? They're better off with Google News.
As for me, I guess I'll continue my search for high-quality technical tidbits, and will get round to paying attention to current affairs when I've finished all the books. At one or two a week, I may be some time, so don't wait for me.
I think I've listened to myself enough for today. Time to see what's next on my to-do list.