RSS: Really Smart Search

There has been a lot of discussion lately regarding whether people use RSS to track news. Rob Diana has summed up the discussion well in RSS, Human Filters and Real Time Streams.

What I am interested in is not tracking breaking news but being able to search for relevant information. Alex at ReadWriteWeb had pontificated about Social Relevancy Ranking in search results.

This is becoming increasingly important for me. Google search has no human filter, no personal trust factor. Alex Campbell writes about the stark realization that he doesn’t depend upon Google anymore to find stuff, where he describes how SEO has diminished Google’s relevancyGoogle Reader

Marshall Kirkpatrick had designed a Custom Google Search (“Marshall’s Magic Search”) that I have used quite a lot, until recently. Now, I find that my Google Reader gives me better results.

How and why?

  • Following the right people. This is the most challenging aspect, as Rob Diana says in his post. There is no built-in auto-discovery feature based on relevancy and not popularity. If the Facebook suggested friends feature could be applied to Google Reader, it would be one approach. But once you follow the thought leaders and influencers in your sphere of interest, you have already made your Google Reader search several relevancy levels higher than Google and dismissed SEO garbage and popularity noise in one fell swoop.
  • The beauty of RSS subscriptions is that searching feeds can go back indefinitely in time. This means in a feed reader like Google Reader, you can get search results from people (feeds) you follow even before you started following them. So if you subscribe to Louis Gray’s shared feed, you can search his “wisdom archives” so to speak, even if you didn’t know him till now.
  • You can get feeds from social bookmarking sites like Delicious and Digg if you want to add popularity as a factor in your search.
  • Organizing your feeds using folders and tags. This comes in very handy so that you can search selectively based on your folders and tags.
  • Using Starring. Many people do not use the Star feature in Google Reader. I use it as if they were my bookmarks.

Can Google Reader replace Google? No, since at present, Google Reader shows results in chronological order, supports primitive search operators and wildcards, and does not use a relevancy algorithm. There are simple limitations like needing to enclose a phrase in parenthesis and so on.

Steve Rubel has also highlighted the use of Google Reader as a database in his recent post. The effectiveness of the tool depends on how effectively you use it. The smarter you are, the smarter your Google Reader search results. There’s an indispensable human filter involved – and that is you.

However, these are limitations of the feed reader, not of RSS. Since it has a large user base, it is difficult for the Google Reader team to accelerate development of new features. On the other hand, new startups like LazyFeed and Toluu have developed an astonishing service within a very short time span. It might take these new services lesser time to add powerful search functions based on social rankings and personal follow lists. Marshall has revealed how they use open source software for meme tracking and feed parsing for ReadWriteWeb, including LazyFeed to monitor specific topics.

If these startups are able to capitalize on a smaller early adopter user base and bring smarter search results, do you think they can deliver smarter search results than Google and its Reader?

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