I used to stress out about information overload - it was one of the early themes of this blog in 2002 and 2003. Even when I stopped writing about it, it would still bother me when after a break from blog reading, I'd see over 1000 unread blog posts in my reader. I would struggle to read/skim through that huge pile and afterwards would feel totally drained.
I'm sure somebody would tell me that I'm subscribing to too many blogs. That if I removed some of this clutter, this problem wouldn't be so bad. I've tried that and it didn't solve all of my problems. I found it even more draining to go through all the blogs I've subscribed to with a critical eye, evaluating whether this blog was worthy to be on my radar at all. The more I thought about each blog, the more complicated the decision would become. I would end up reducing the number of blogs I subscribed to, but I wonder whether it was worth all of the effort that it took. And then after I did that, of course the number would only increase again as I discovered more interesting blogs and added them to my reader. Some people deal with that problem by setting a number which will be the definite number of blogs they subscribe to - so that if you add a new blog, you have to remove another. That didn't work for me either - it just made me not want to add any new blogs because it was such a hassle to get rid of one, and so my reading list atrophied for a while until I just gave up and started adding without removing. The other problem with that is that not all blogs publish with the same frequency, so that number of blogs subscribed to is not going to determine how many blog posts you'll be reading.
I've found that over the past few months, I've developed a different way of dealing with clutter in the blog reader. It's messy but it works for me. I'm offering this not as a prescription which everyone should follow, but just as an alternative.
Here's the key thing. The number of blogs you subscribe to does not equal the number of blogs that you pay close attention to. There needn't be this dichotomy between subscribe and dump. That dichotomy is an anachronism from print. There can be all sorts of degrees to which you pay attention to a blog. There are some blogs which I read every day, more than every day if they update more frequently. Other ones, every few days, or every week or so, or every month - basically whenever I'm in the mood.
This leads onto another important point. It's not important to know everything that's happening as soon as it happens. That's why it's ok for a blog in your reader to languish unread for a month. It's not as if we're journalists working for rival newspapers who all want the big scoop and that being first to press is so important. I think there's value in unearthing the recent and not so recent past. It's probably true that most blog posts get buried without making much of an impact. This could be for all sorts of reasons - maybe it wasn't a good post or maybe it was a good post, but it was published on a big news day when everybody else was distracted by something else.
Deal with the volume not by unsubscribing, but by promoting and demoting. If I find that a blog has been posting too much, or what it has been posting hasn't been all that interesting, I'll demote it. This means I'll read it less often. But if I take another look at it in a few weeks and it's got some good stuff, I'll promote it back to where it was. I use a tag in the Google Reader called "key blogs", this is the one that I check several times a day. I also have more descriptive tags, e.g. "Australian librarians", if I demote a blog from this group, I tag it "Australian librarians01" and so on, 02, 03 etc. That's how I organize it - the hope is that the good rises to the top and the mediocre sinks into obscurity, but being flexible to cope with constant changes in the blogosphere and my own preferences.
I'm not saying that I never unsubscribe to blogs. If a blog really annoys or offends me, I will unsubscribe to it, that's if I don't give it the idiots or z-list tag.
I don't think it's an accident that I developed this method after switching to the Google reader. There's no reason why these ideas couldn't be adapted to work with other readers. Sometimes I still use NetNewsWire. This method could work there, but I'd have to change its preferences to turn off its feature of showing number of unread posts in its dock icon. I've decided that that is not a helpful number. I used to stress about getting it to zero and think I wasted a lot of time and energy doing that. I'd much rather ignore that number and focus on enjoying what I like reading.