Research colleagues, friends, and coworkers will recognize the behavior I’m about to describe as something I regularly do and which I heard recently called Penguin Pebbling. I see something — probably a journal article — and it reminds me of you and so I grab the pebble off the pile and fling it into your inbox. This happens often without much other text than the opener of “thought you’d enjoy!” or “are you still working in this area? “
One of my favorite sources for the past few years has been EurekaAlerts, the paid press release service of AAAS. Here, aggregated in a tidy way for me, is a giant pile of pebbles crossing all the research disciplines. Mostly science and science adjacent, but I could learn of all sorts of neat topics that way. Pebbles about medicine, dinosaurs, food science…
To manage the flow, which is easily a couple hundred press releases a day, I added the RSS feed from EA to feedly — my aggregator since Google Reader died it’s untimely death. I was deeply surprised then when the EA RSS one day just… stopped.
The site had undergone an upgrade and overhaul late this summer, and as confirmed by their editor on Twitter, they turned off the RSS feeds. Entirely. Now I can wade through the site a variety of different ways but the firehose — the way I actually consumed the alerts is completely gone.
It’s a huge loss of functionality and for no apparent reason. The only options presented are receiving updates by emails and no one I know wants more emails — even if I could somehow sign up for all of them, my inbox is already a disaster and I’d need a new inbox just to try and manage that. And since I’m not a journalist or a public information officer for my institution I’m not eligible for an account anyway.
EurekaAlerts/AAAS seem to have entirely forgotten that there are other users like librarians or researchers who do not have the time to go to the site daily and try to rummage through 3-5 sections on the off chance there will be something. Through Twitter shares, I’m sure I sent hundreds or thousands of views to their site as the press-release-source-of-truth over the years. Now instead I vaguely check the site every few days, read a headline or two. I can’t efficiently skim 50-100 headlines while on the train.
EurekaAlert claims it’s for the public but it’s removed public functionality in a way that is saddening and unnecessary. Keeping the RSS feed live wasn’t that much additional work. Preventing me from getting any sort of feed sends a strong message that I’m not welcome to share the press releases –which seems counter intuitive to the point of the site. All this at a time where I keep seeing more revived interest in RSS and readers like feedly as people are exhausted trying to reduce email cognitive load with the onslaught of medium articles, substacks, and other longer form writing.
And it’s reduced my ability to pebble, taking away the fun of sharing new science.
And that’s incredibly disappointing.