Fever, RSS, Twitter, and solidifying online communities

Today seemed to be the day to publish insightful pieces on Shaun Inman’s brilliant RSS reader Fever. Both Kyle Baxter of Tightwind fame and Pat Dryburgh wrote pieces about the change in mindset that Fever stimulates concerning reading RSS feeds as well as the communities that build around focused sites like Tightwind. ((This piece claims to be nowhere near their level, but it also extends their discussion of Fever to the broader online publishing community))

Toward the end of Kyle’s piece he writes that:

More interestingly, though, it reveals communities which may not be immediately obvious. By seeing what people are linking to, you are also seeing what they are reading. But by using Fever, you are also seeing each link in the context of links made to the same content by others, rather than seeing it on its own. It is that context which is important. Since communities are nothing more than people interested in the same things, and Fever shows precisely this, it means what you are seeing is the underlying structure of a community. The structure was always there to see, but because past feed readers conceptualize feeds as individual and distinct, existing in their own world, rather than as connected — the full community structure was difficult to see.

This is something monumentally powerful that is just in its infancy. I can imagine an application which finds the community structure from what publishers link to, who readers subscribe to, and what they read, and utilizing this data, creates a visual look at how people are connected on the web. Using this, you could not only identify communities, but identify community leaders and individuals rising to become leaders.

For me this is the biggest promise that Fever holds as an RSS reader and as a concept. Sure, the ability to filter out just the hot and popular items can save you from having to skim through thousands of items, but it’s the way that the Fever allows you to see the community among your feeds that’s potentially revolutionary. Kyle nails it when he writes that, “The structure was always there to see, but…the full community structure was difficult to see.”

Now what would be truly great is if this mindset toward revealing the relationships among posts carried over into other online publishing systems. Having it reside in an RSS reader is a good first step but it ought to become something that is inherently a part of publishing platforms in general. ((I think it’s similar to the argument about groups on Twitter: easy for a client to do, but ought to be done server-side))

Imagine how great this kind of software and mindset would be to a news organization looking to present its community with not just its own stories but also with a curated list of articles that are of interest to community members. By digging into the links within blog posts a whole new level of community interest and relevance could be opened up.