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October 16, 2006

The Case For RSS Feeds

Got an e-mail today from a reader letting me know he was taking me off his favorites list because he found that my indulgence in one particular general topic impeded his enjoyment of other topics I write about. There is nothing to be done for the problem of topics, of course; I write about whatever I want to write about here and that's not going to change. Certainly I encourage people to suggest topics for discussion, but the converse is not true, i.e., you don't get to tell what not to write about.

Also, given the number of people who visit the site and the myriad ways they've come here, it's while it's almost entirely the case that most people are less than enthused about any one topic I might discuss, which topic that is will vary by individual. Some people will wish I would shut up about politics, some people will wish I would shut up about writing, some people will get annoyed when I play with Photoshop. No one will be happy with me 100% of the time. Them's the breaks.

However, I do think it's a bit of a shame if my desire to discuss a single topic -- whatever that topic may be -- makes someone want to disappear. For those folks who discover they have an allergy to me when I discuss any one topic, allow me to suggest that you put Whatever into an RSS reader. The RSS excerpts for the site are 150 words long -- usually enough to get an idea about what I'm blathering about this time -- and from there you can decide whether or not it's worth you time to click through and read the whole thing, or roll your eyes and ignore me until something more interesting to you comes along.

Certainly I don't have a problem with people filtering my online blatherations. God knows I sort of skip some of my favorite bloggers' entries when they get particularly screedy about something I disgree with them on, or don't care about, and if I do it I can't complain when someone does it to me. I really and honestly don't expect any of the Whatever readers to enjoy every single thing I write, so please: If I annoy you sometimes, avoid the topics on which I annoy you. Unless you go out of your way to tell me what topics of mine you're filtering out, I'll be none the wiser and will happily putter on obliviously. Everybody wins.

You can find the RSS feed at the bottom of the Whatever sidebar; there's also an Atom feed for those of you who want the full entry sent to your reader. They're there to be used. Use 'em.

Posted by john at October 16, 2006 05:25 PM

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JimW | October 16, 2006 05:52 PM

First comment on the thread! Yes! (pumps fist) Makes coming home from work early worth it...

One of the reasons I read the Whatever every single day is the diverse number of things you talk about. Some interest me more than others, but I find your take on the wide variety of topics you write about interesting and often insightful. Ocassionally you, or comments made by others, have changed my view point - something that doesn't happen to me all the often.

Keep doing what you do, John, you are very much appreciated.

Kendoway | October 16, 2006 05:59 PM

> indulgence in one particular general topic...

And of course you won't tell us what that topic is....LOL

Ok, lets have some guesses:

1) Animal Abuse (the cat and bacon incident).

2) Drunk Abuse (Krissy conquers the tosspots)

3) Star Wars Abuse (John hates Jar Jar)

4) Reader Abuse (I was out-bid by $4880!)

5) Foley Abuse (well, ok he probably deserves it)

Am I close?

Adam Rakunas | October 16, 2006 06:01 PM

What, this guy doesn't like posts about pie? Fie on him!

RooK | October 16, 2006 06:09 PM

Let me get this straight: somebody has announced directly to you that they're not going to read your site regularly any more because one of your perennial topics impedes their enjoyment?

My first reaction is, unsurprisingly, that it's a lame load of manipulation. I can understand, even sympathise with the underlying mechanism. But it seems to me the only reason to then mention it to you is to be manipulative. Which is not a bad thing, necessarily. I just think it's lame to do in this setting.

My second reaction is to realize, once again, that I'm a mean little bastard. But there you go.

Using my mastery of The Force, I'm willing to bet that the specific topic was political in nature. Which, unfortunately, tends to confirm my unkind characterizations of a certain stripe of political affiliation as being knowledge-avoidant. Somehow, I doubt whether you'll confirm or deny anything, John, since you usually seem to be much more chivalrous than I.

Eric | October 16, 2006 06:37 PM

Hey, the way to get Pluto reinstated as a planet has nothing to do with avoiding your blog and everything to do with awakening mighty Cthulhu. Maybe the reader in question should have gotten any moral qualms and primitive-hominid squeamishness out of his system before we began the Great Summoning And Binding Of Ibn-Ghazi. However, he has solved our "What Do We Feed The Master After It Has Dined On Foley?" conundrum nicely--you do have an address where the Dimensional Shamblers can round up this "special lunch guest" I assume?

John Scalzi | October 16, 2006 06:49 PM


"Somehow, I doubt whether you'll confirm or deny anything, John, since you usually seem to be much more chivalrous than I."

Yeah, actually, the topic is not actually material. Also, I don't think this fellow was trying to be manipulative; he just wanted to let know where he stood, and I think that's fine. The ones that are trying to be manipulative are the ones who say "Why should I buy your books if you're going to write about [insert topic here]?" Man, I hate that. This fellow wasn't about that at all.

David "The Longtime Lurker" | October 16, 2006 06:57 PM

Shoot I glaze over everything till you start talking about writing... : )

Michael Rawdon | October 16, 2006 07:07 PM

Man, Scalzi, I hate it when you talk about RSS feeds!

fishbane | October 16, 2006 07:08 PM

while it's almost entirely the case that most people are less than enthused about any one topic I might discuss, which topic that is will vary by individual.

Actually, I may be the one person on the planet that has enjoyed your blogging output in entirety, since I found it. Even when I see posts about reviews of books I can't buy, I do read them, and find life better for you having posted them.

And frankly, that sort of shut-up mail is just dumb.

claire | October 16, 2006 07:16 PM

scalzi, i have to say here in all brutal honesty that everyone i've talked to (they're all afraid to tell you so, as usual, i was elected) hates it when you go off about the vatican requiring that latin be one of the languages available on their atm machines.

once or twice was fine, interesting even. three or four times ... okay, you have a hobby horse. but now it's really getting ridiculous and you're starting to make us all feel like we're following the ravings of a maniac ... i mean that your insistence on brutalizing the pope for his linguistic choices is throwing your other opinions into a questionable light.

i'm starting to think those anti-gay-marriage folks have a point, and to wonder if mark foley wasn't, in fact, the best man for the job. and you're starting to turn me around on abortion, feminism, racism, domestic abuse, DRMs, RFID tags in my passport, dog-beating, crocodile handbags, vegan cheese, and scarlett johanson.

it's not just me, i swear. i understand that ben rosenbaum was considering repudiating explosions, jt leroy was wondering if he wasn't an abused tranny boy after all, margaret mead was going to have a love child with werner heisenberg in the afterlife, and harlan ellison was going to issue a sincere apology to connie willis before somebody talked him down. i know you hang a lot on your "la di da nobody tells me what not to write" attitude, but think of the rest of us. seriously, you're a public figure and you have a responsibility here. it's not always just about you.

sxKitten | October 16, 2006 07:20 PM

fishbane, you're not the only person - I too enjoy everything John writes about here. I sometimes skip the comments on the more political posts, but that's mostly because I'm a conflict-averse Canuck who thinks posting "Thank god I'm Canadian" comments doesn't really add anything to the discussion.

gRegor | October 16, 2006 07:33 PM

Indeed, honestly I skim a lot of your stuff (via RSS) because I'm not into writing all that much, but like some of the humorous or political topics (bacon on cat is what brought me here initially).

The only thing I was about to say was that you should include the full posts in the feeds, but you addressed that. So I'll just switch to your Atom feed. Thanks!

Andrew Cory | October 16, 2006 07:36 PM

What do people recommend as an RSS reader? I'm using Google reader myself, but am open to suggestions...

Marc | October 16, 2006 08:13 PM

Dear John,
I can understand why someone may be upset at different topics; however Blogs should be used to expand one's horizon, not to keep one in a safe harbor. One topic I would like you to address was an article in Discover Magazine this past week regarding Science fast approaching it limit, with no new discoveries to be made, only refinements.
Thanks- and keep up the good thoughts.

Sarah | October 16, 2006 09:03 PM

I too am a daily reader who likes everything on this site-- the politics, the writing, the cat antics, SF community, taste in books, etc. In part this is because I blog on similar topics, sort of across the board, and I like to see proof that you can be popular without narrowing your focus to one single topic. Not that I'm popular. It's just that those are the blogs I like, despite all the articles that claim it's not what readers like.

In fact, I was shocked the other day to discover that I actually disagreed with something posted on here. I think it was the first time in the several months I've been reading. I'm a Star Wars fan. Don't get me wrong, I could rant in a critical manner for days and days about what George Lucas has done lately, but my beefs (beef? beeves? haha) with him are along different lines.

Dan | October 16, 2006 09:05 PM

"Why should I buy your books if you're going to write about [insert topic here]?"

You actually have people tell you that? That would drive me batty.

Kristy | October 16, 2006 09:05 PM

Speaking of suggesting topics... What's this about Pluto being demoted to a number??

JonathanMoeller | October 16, 2006 09:22 PM

What? Didn't you get the memo? Modern politics requires, nay, demands that people keep their opinions in utter lockstep on every conceivable issue of political theory, taste, and music. If not, you should be cast out from the party and shunned, shunned, shunned!

Chang, stealing the internet from his car! | October 16, 2006 09:38 PM


I too am cutting you off my favorites list because of your incessant ramblings about the state of Ohio. It seems overbearing, uneccessary and frankly hateful. To inflict pictures of open green vistas on the rest of us, or your accursed beautfiul sunsets, or perhaps the quaint little decrees your state makes for you declaring you residnet holy man for a day of your pleasant little burg.

Your wholesome state of life, your adoring wife and child and your way of living chills me to the very bone. It's as if by living your lfie the way you live it and thinking thoughts your own way AND doing things your own way... you hate America. By being an Ohian-American, you want the terrorists to win, don't you?

I for one am tired of your incessant manipulation and hope you will see this as due notice to stop talking about round at the end and high in the middle OH HIGH OH.


Chang, who was in Columbus once, and Cleveland and then Gambier.

p.s. Please continue to send the missives about feline incontinence.

p.p.s. I had some bacon the other day and resisted all your mind control technques to get me to tape it to the cat. It was center cut. It was applewood smoked. The cat is too good for that. He has baser tastes.

Mark DF | October 16, 2006 09:46 PM

Oh, gods, can we not talk about this?

On the one hand, what an odd thing to say/do. On the other, my curiosity wants to know the topic that sent him in a tizzy.

I'm not a huge sports fan. And yet, I still manage to watch my local news without leaving the room in a huff when the sports announcers come on.

Methinks it's not the "indulgence." Methinks it's them there homos-you-like-so-much-why-don't-you-marry-one. What else can it be? Too much bacon (like there's even such a thing)? John, I check in every day and have for months. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a single topic--other than writing which is one of the points of your blog--that you "indulge." I'm going with the gays. If so, good riddance.

Oh, wait, it's me, isn't it? It's because you write about me all the time.

Bryan Price | October 16, 2006 09:51 PM

Oh, I can sort of relate. I subscribed to a blog that I thought would mainly be about the space industry. Trouble is, he makes quite a few political posts that, quite frankly, I don't really care about. Of course they go against my grain, as apparently the particular topic goes against the reader. However, I haven't dropped him. And I wouldn't drop him just because he has his particular point of view, I'm just pissed because he hardly writes about what originally got me interested in him to start with.

Or course, John, you and I somehow seem to think alike in a lot of things (must be that Ohio upbringing), and that for me is part of the joy of reading you, both in dead tree form and in recycled electrons.

Greg | October 16, 2006 09:54 PM


As someone who a.) frequently disagrees with you, and b.) faithfully reads your column everyday, I can offer the following observations:

-I think the reader was trying to emotionally blackmail you..It's one thing to turn you off; it's another thing for him/her (a stranger) to write you an email informing you of such. (Kind of like when people say that they won't buy your books unless you endorse Bush.)

-It's only natural that some of what is important to you won't be important to readers, and vice versa. For example, you have written several dismissive posts about libertarian issues---like the legalization of marijuana and prostitution--as if these issues are frivolous.

To me, however, the fact that the government restricts what adults can do with their bodies is more important than the fact that we won't let two men get married. (BTW: I don't have a dog in the gay marriage fight one way or another--I would prefer to split the difference, pass a civil unions law, and move on.)

-There is also the issue of expertise. When it comes to professional writing, you are an established "expert"--as this is how you earn your living. Even if I disagreed with you about a writing issue, I would be inclined to defer to your depth and experience in this subject.

On the other hand, when you talk about national security--well, unless there is something in your bio that I am missing, you don't have any special expertise in this area...You've never been in the military, never been in law enforcement, probably never even fired a gun..In short, you're just a guy with an opinion when it comes to the Patriot Act. (This is the area where I most frequently disagree with you.)

Scraps | October 16, 2006 10:08 PM

So far as I can tell, most of the people who do have serious experience with the military -- retired generals, for example -- are a lot closer to agreeing with John about national security than they are to agreeing with the constitution-ass-wipers who drafted the "Patriot Act".

In any case, experience does not equal "special expertise", and lack of experience does not equal ignorance. A good argument is a good argument, regardless of who makes it, and dismissing an argument based on the person who makes it is one of the most basic fallacies. Surely it is more productive to disagree with John's views on the Patriot Act on the basis of what he said, rather than who he is (assuming that a productive discourse is what is desired, rather than an easy reason not to think about one's own position).

KafkaesquĆ­ | October 16, 2006 10:13 PM

Dear John,

Hey, why so few posts today on how everyone loves The Android's Dream? I mean, come on! You know it's the only reason anyone visits here anymore...

Anyway, I've heard of this nifty keen blogging technology called 'categories.' If you used them on Whatever, I'm sure you can set up feeds by category...In fact, I did the hard work for ya'.

Kindest Regards,

P.S. Not that I think Whatever needs categories. I typically know what you're writing about just by the title. It's kinda scary!

Annalee Flower Horne | October 16, 2006 10:17 PM

I can understand people getting miffed about a single-topic blog going off-topic. For instance, when I read the UN dispatch, I want to read about the UN. If the UND started talking about new computer gadgets, I would get annoyed. I might even consider telling them so. So I guess I can sympathise with Bryan Price about the space blog getting political.

But Whatever is a personal blog that's never to my knowledge indicated that it has a single topic. Doesn't it sort of follow that it would be about whatever?

Also, am I the only person in the world who's not partial to RSS feeds? I'll always take an Atom Feed over an RSS, because to me, clikcing through to read the entry defeats the purpose of getting my blogfix in aggregate to begin with.

Jeff VanderMeer | October 16, 2006 11:46 PM

If you can't control your obsession with cats and bacon, I think you need to see a therapist. The irate emailer is quite correct in deciding not to read your blog any more, sir.


rayyy | October 17, 2006 12:30 AM

Isn't saying, "I'm taking you off my favourites list", just a dressed-up version of, "I hereby declare victory"? Said, of course, with fingers plugged firmly in the ears, whilst stomping off into the distance.

Ginny | October 17, 2006 01:09 AM

This is the blog equivalent of what I get at work at the radio station all the time: If I don't play the caller's request, NOW, he or she will Stop. Listening. FOREVER.

Forget the fact that our station's format is classic dance, and they want to hear "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." The important thing is that we will never get over the loss of this one listener, and will eventually go out of business because we didn't halt the Bee Gees mid-song and play The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. This was a Very Serious Request, and it is a Very Serious Matter that it was ignored.


John Scalzi | October 17, 2006 06:09 AM

I don't know that this is a 100% accurate assessment, because among other thing the fellow in question noted that he didn't expect me to change anything, he just wanted me to know why he was removing me from his favorites. It's like someone who is leaving a restaurant after a poor experience telling the manager why he's going, as a data point for the manager.

Steve Buchheit | October 17, 2006 07:57 AM

I think that analogy only works if what you're selling is your blog. I guess I've missed the ads posted because I'm off and reading before everything downloads.

Now, if the critique is specific and helpful, even if negative, that's one thing. Say like they're annoyed at "teh interweeb thing" jokes (I'm not saying I am, I'm just trying to give a concrete example and that was the first running gag I could think of) and how it wouldn't annoy them if it was just "the internet."

If the person was a regular commentator contributing to the community and they had a complaint about how there were treated, that would be another thing, you big meanie.

But in the end, it's John's House. If he wants you to take off your shoes before going inside, remember to wear the good socks before going over. If he serves fried crickets as snacks and this is something you don't like, eat before going over. Or just use the phone to keep in contact or teh interweebie thang.

Steve Buchheit | October 17, 2006 10:16 AM

Wait, it's me isn't it. It's my breath isn't it. But I had my teeth cleaned last week and I've been eating milkbone... I mean brushing, flossing and using mouthwash like my dental hygenist said.

Oh the heartbreak of halitosis.

WizarDru | October 17, 2006 11:35 AM

Sure Scalzi, that's how it starts. Don't think I don't know what you're up to, here.

First you post about Bacon-Cats.
Then I see it, and go back to reading Joystiq.
Then you tell me, "Use RSS Feeds! They're boss!"
So I start using them, see a topic I don't like...and go back to reading 4colorrebellion.
Then you start getting tricky with the titles....Bacon-Cat becomes "A Curious Case for Eliza Doolitle's Pork".
I can't resist such a title, check it out...and then go back to Kotaku.
Next, you raise the ante...it's all "Hey Dru, noticed you missed that last topic...if RSS is too much work, why don't you use an IM client or I could just call you on Skype."
Then it's all weird when you start calling asking why I'm not checking out the latest missive about Bacon-Cats-are-From-Pluto, Ham-Dogs-are-From-Mars and stalking me on LiveJournal and "you used to love Bacon Cat, what happened?" and I'm all "it's not your blog, it's me, I've changed" and then you're all "but what about MY needs..." and then it's restraining orders and stalking and then I'm worried that you're allowed to slap me around because of the Ohio Supreme Court and WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE BACON?!?!

You don't fool me for one single, solitary minute.

rayyy | October 17, 2006 12:03 PM

I still can't get what the motivation would be for telling someone you'd taken them "off your favourites list". If you *really* don't expect them to change, then why say anything hurtful? Why not just disappear quietly?

Anyway, the more I think about it, the creepier it gets. Remember that movie, "Misery"? It was all about a famous author's, "greatest fan ever"...

...until she disagreed with something he wrote.

Yup, she sure "took him off her favourites list" :)

Tripp | October 17, 2006 03:27 PM

This whole thing is rather funny and straight out of grade school so obviously I'm enjoying it immensely.

Since we all get to, you know, "share our feelings" I'll mention that the writing stuff is very far from my 'favorites' list but with much work I can (barely) deal with it.

Thank you Ginny for reminding me about the Edmund Fitzgerald. I LOVED that song, because once you learned the first verse you were good for about 15 minutes of begginer guitar playing. I wish every song was the Edmund Fitzgerald because then I'd be the best quitarist in the world instead of the moderate beginner that I am.

Tripp | October 17, 2006 03:31 PM

Sheesh, my last post looked like I'm drunk-posting. I swear on a stack of Bibles I am completely sober but am suffering a flare-up of carpal tunnel that makes my fingers feel as fat as sausages. Fat sausages.

Nathan | October 17, 2006 04:08 PM

In Tripp's dream world:

On screen visual:
Passengers are boarding the Titanic happily.

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'Gitche Gumee'

On screen visual:
Florida Gators take the field to face down Georgia Bulldogs.

Marching band with singer perform
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland

On screen visual:
Bride walks down the aisle


And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

On second thought, I too wish EVERY song was the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Ginny | October 17, 2006 08:28 PM

Nathan, I'm amazed that you know the words to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Tripp, I like the ol' song as well, and have the mp3 at home.

Now, does anyone remember "The Mighty Quinn?" (Come on, without, come on, within, you've not seen nothing like the mighty Quinn!"

Nathan | October 17, 2006 08:37 PM


Childhood radio haunting me. What's next.

Nights in white satin, never reaching the end
Letters I've written, never meaning to send.

Shoot me. Shoot me now.

(Quinn was o.k. though)

Steve Buchheit | October 17, 2006 08:58 PM

Ginny, oh Jeeze, now I'm going to go to sleep with THAT in my head.

But when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybodys gonna jump for joy.

Ginny | October 18, 2006 12:54 AM

Steve & Nathan,

Have I told you recently that I've got a brand new pair of rollerskates; you've got a brand new key?

Nathan | October 18, 2006 07:17 AM


Steve Buchheit | October 18, 2006 08:06 AM


(sound of pounding head against desk)

Dagnabbit, forgot to recharge the iPod.

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