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Why Did You Share Your Google Reader “ERP News Feed” and Who Cares About RSS if You Have Twitter?

There is something of a quietly simmering debate on whether Twitter is an adequate replacement for RSS or not. I’m not sure the debate can be settled, because so much of it depends on how the individual uses these tools, but I’ll give my take on this and how it impacts those who have a stake in SAP (and ERP) trends - as well as how to monitor my new shared ERP news feed.

A couple of basics for those who want the practical stuff:

  I have spent a questionable/absurd amount of hours fine tuning my RSS setup in Google Reader to bring me the best stories in the SAP, ERP, IT, and "Enterprise 2.0"/social media areas. Bottom line: why not share?

Google Reader forced the issue by making it so easy to do this, and also by providing a "note" feature that allows me to add my own annotated comment on each story I share. When possible, I often share the Twitter ID of the story author as well. This is the "best of"/most relevant stories only - so far I’ve been sharing (and annotating) about five a day.

There are several ways to track my Google Reader shared feed, which is the other nifty thing about it:

There is a Google Reader ERP news page where the stories I selected (and my annoted notes) are spit out — you can bookmark that page or follow it within Google Reader yourself.

There is an RSS feed generated by that reader that will give you the stories (and my notes also).

Each story I share is also Tweeted to a new Twitter feed, JonERPnewsfeed. The Tweeted version of these stories does not contain my annotated note - there’s no room for that in 144 spaces.

If there are any FriendFeed junkies out there, the stories are also part of my JonERP FriendFeed timeline, including the notes. I’m not sure how long FriendFeed has before Facebook does something wacky with it but it’s there.

And yes, I could bombard my friends on Facebook with this feed also, but my motto is "keep a healthy distance from Facebook and things go better."

Oh, and the most recent stories from the feed (as well as a snippet from my comment) are currently featured on the right hand side of all the "Career Blog" pages on JonERP.com in a widget installed by good friend and Joomla wiz Kimo Lee of Azurelink.  You can see it on the right hand side of this page if your scroll down.

That’s a pretty exhaustive list of things that happen to these articles once they are "shared" - and to do this, you don’t have to add a note to each story, but I’ve been doing that most of the time. That’s it - the item is shared and out to all those places.

So that’s how to follow the feed. Now for the pros and cons of RSS versus Twitter.

I decided that for Twitter purposes, I did NOT want these news items to get mixed into my JonERP Twitter feed. My followers have come to expect a high level of personalization in everything I Tweet. Even when I link to a news story, I always include something in the Tweet about why that story matters to me. I don’t auto-Tweet anything - ever - and I don’t want to change that now.

As an aside, should you decide to follow the jonerpnewsfeed as well as my "classic" jonerp Twitter address, you will receive a few redundant news links, but not too many. I’m noticing that I only Tweet about one of every five pieces I select from the Google Reader shared items feed to my @jonerp followers. Part of that is a function of time - not to mention a focus on the real conversational aspects of Twitter - which means not pushing too many news items. The conversations take center stage on @jonerp, only the best "blogpicks" make it through, and I’ve taken to calling them "picks" to get across that selectivity.

I think filtered information has value in this news/opinion deluge we contend with. In this case the filtering is:

1. I only subscribe in Google Reader to the bloggers that have really proven their merit in the areas they monitor.

2. From those subscriptions, (and multiple redundant keyword searches so as not to miss news items), a select group of the best (or most newsworthy) pieces are shared in my Google Reader shared feed.

3. Only the very best of those stories (around 10 percent), are personally Tweeted from my jonerp Twitter ID.

So why RSS? I hear people say all the time, "I don’t need RSS now that I’m using Twitter." It’s true that Twitter can reduce dependency on RSS, in particular for breaking news stories where the Twitter buzz is hard to miss. With Twittter, you can get away with letting that RSS reader go slack when deadlines are bearing down and turn to Twitter for the quick fix.

For example, if you’re following all the SAP Mentors, I doubt you’ll miss a single big news story in SAP from all the chatter you will see on the timeline - as long as you check out Twitter every day or track some prior Tweets in a Twitter app like Seesmic Desktop. And if you follow my list of the best independent IT analysts on Twitter, you’re not likely to miss any big story in the enterprise space, whether it touches on ERP or not.

But Twitter is not enough. Being a live stream, you’re going to miss some things in an area you care about (tracking the #sap hashtag won’t do it as SAP is often used without the hashtag, and tracking the general SAP keyword use is too much - tons of job postings, mentions of tree sap, lots of "I’m such a sap.").  Some analysts have multiple blogs in different locations, and they can be prolific as heck too. You’re going to miss some of their best entries if you don’t have a way to track them. And the beauty of Google Reader is that any feeds you follow are keyword searchable from the point you started tracking them.

Chances are, unless a story is heavily ReTweeted, you might miss it. And beware: Twitter is not a meritocracy of content. Not all the stories that are ReTweeted are worthy of it, and some very solid piece slip through unnoticed. I have a friend in the publishing world who finds his most often ReTweeted blog entries tend to be the more superficial ones, and the more substantial efforts can go by unnoticed. Some of this is because people have a tendency to quickly ReTweet something without giving thought to its relevance. Fact: great pieces don’t always catch onto the Tweetstream, and without an RSS net, you’ll miss them. RSS ain’t perfect, but at least you won’t miss the stories from those that influence your work the most.

On the other hand, if you have some trust in a colleague who is willing to scour the RSS feeds for you (perhaps that fool is me), then following a few shared RSS news item feeds might take you a long way. I do recommend this much: unless you are an analyst like me who is expected to know the nook and cranny of every story, only follow the handful of folks that are deeply relevant on RSS. Adding too much content to an RSS reader is the first step towards self-defeating RSS behavior. And an abandoned RSS reader brings no value whatever. My criteria for adding something to RSS is: "Is this absolutely essential to my day to day work?" In those areas that are not as essential, I let Twitter monitor those for me (by paying attention to what my followers like) and therefore reduce the amount of blogger feeds I need to follow.

Also: beware of monster RSS feeds that pull in all the content from a very active site. For example, I used to follow the entire SAP SCN blog feed, but I have shifted gears and now subscribe to many (but not all) of the topic feeds and author feeds. Part of the benefit here: I prioritize and organize individual feeds within Google Reader. When I’m in a rush, it’s a lot more useful to have all my SAP BPX stories in the same folder than to have a massive feed with all kinds of SAP stories mashed together in one feed.

Of course, RSS is not necessarily the only way to do this - you can accomplish some of the same on a social bookmarking site like delicious, and even use the "like" votes on such sites to track the most viewed stories (though beware of relying solely on popularity contests for your content, you’re going to miss some important contrarian voices that way). Those social sites are nicely set up to share feeds just like I’ve done with Google Reader.

But RSS is uniquely powerful. For example, I have a folder in my Google Reader for all the mentions of my name or my company name in a variety of contexts, including Google Alerts. I have custom SAP stock alert feeds and custom ERP keyword feeds from newswires. And here’s another great one: I have keyword alerts setup for all my main clients. This allows me to quickly alert them to any mentions of their name on Twitter or anywhere else on the web, and in some cases, to form a follow up plan to connect with the blogger (or Tweeter) in question.

I should note that some bloggers share their "links du jour" as a blog entry. This is most useful when there is commentary for each link, doesn’t do much for me without some narrative from the blogger. Michael Cote of RedMonk does a very nice job with this. Tom Raftery of GreenMonk does this effectively also. I would find that type of blogging a bit much - I like the Google Reader shared feed page because I can quickly offer a comment, post the story, and move on.

Oh, and you may have noticed that in my JonERP News Feed on Twitter, I include the hashtag #news on each item I share, a tactic I lifted from others who auto-post news items. I couldn’t go with the #SAP hashtag for this autofeed because some stories are not SAP related, and there is the occasional Enterprise 2.0 or social media or web business piece. The use of that #news hashtag does put the items in front of those who track news, and results in additional views of those stories when they post. The bio on that Twitter news page lets folks know it’s just a feed, and all the Tweets list my @jonerp Twitter ID so that anyone who wants can follow the real interactive account as well as (or instead of) the ERP news feed.

Sum: best way to find the value of these tools is to toss out the crusted-over conventions of how they are supposed to work best and hone them for yourself, through trial and error. If any of my experiments are helpful, then great. And if any of these newsfeeds I’m sharing now help you to track the market in a manageable way, excellent. Perhaps you will find a better way, and pretty soon I’ll be borrowing from your approach.

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