Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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I was having a conversation last week with my friend Jonathan (sadly blogless) about the state of news. The conversation went in a bunch of different directions, but the one I’ve been meaning to write about is the importance of RSS. Not so much the technology, but the effect it’s had. The most important of these effects is showing the world the power of an irregular news cycle: Instead of coming out with new stories based on some deadline an editor came up with, most blogs publish whenever they damn well please. They can do this because they know that many of their readers have subscribed to the site and will receive updates whenever they come out. (For the record, I know that RSS adoption is still quite low. My point with this isn’t so much about the actual subscriptions, but rather how the advantages of publishing this way will eventually spill over into the mainstream.)

Blogs, unlike newspapers and magazines, don’t have to fill pages on a regular basis. If I don’t write here daily I see no drop in readership (in fact, I often see a rise if I take a week off . . . but that’s another story). That means, unlike newspapers and other media outlets, I don’t ever have to create news. The vast majority of my readers are subscribed and they (you) will receive my writing when it happens thanks to RSS (which is the technology behind the email subscription as well in case you’re wondering).

I guess in reality this is just a continuation of my “Nothing to Lose” piece (recap: big media fighting bloggers is kind of like fighting the crazy guy in the bar who doesn’t care about getting hurt). My motivation is fundamentally different than a media outlet. I don’t care about time-on-site or pageviews, I just want to put out consistently interesting information so that I can attract as much feedback as possible on my ideas.

Not really sure where else to go with all this, just though it was something worth throwing out there.

While I’m on the subject, here are some other thoughts I have on the news:

  • I’ve been quoting this Virtual Economics entry on the power of satirical news quite a bit lately. The basic idea is that “To overcome rational ignorance [“rational ignorance tells us that our votes can’t possibly affect the outcome of an election”] we need more Onions, more Daily Shows, more Sunday Sports – diverse cultural forms that treat the news as entertainment, reach every section of society and reward individuals for taking the trouble to keep themselves informed.” As Seamus writes early in the entry, that’s because “Unless you’re actually a politician or a lobbyist, knowledge of current affairs is pure indulgence. It follows that the people who know about the news are following it for fun.”
  • I really do believe that a look at the front page of The Onion gives you a better idea of what’s important in the world than just about any other publication.
  • We mostly read news for the social currency it offers us (you don’t want to be on Wall Street and not have read the front page of The Journal). With that in mind I think we’ll see more and more pre-chewed news like Talking Points on Current TV.(video below)

Okay, that’s it for now. Have a good Monday.

Updates (12/2/07): In retrospect, this episode of Talking Points is really not any good. The idea behind it (“Knowing about current events isn’t nearly as important as appearing to
know about them”), however, is the part I really dig.

December 3, 2007