Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

a further word of exhortation: RSS

Some of you will have discovered my previous post exhorting you to abandon Twitter by finding a link to it on Twitter (possibly a link posted by me). I have scripts set up to send various things I do online to Twitter because by using such scripts (a) I don't have to visit Twitter to announce what I've posted and (b) I acknowledge that many of you now get your news, and more generally your sense of what is worth reading online, from Twitter.

May I suggest that you try an RSS service instead? RSS is the great neglected technology of the internet. It has never been super-popular, and such popularity as it had largely dissipated when Google shut down Google Reader, a much-loved service it cost them nearly nothing to maintain. (That was when I stopped trusting Google.) 

But there were then and are now a number of really good RSS services. I use NewsBlur, but Feedly is also very good, and you can see a long list of RSS aggregators here. Many of these come in both free and paid versions. If you don't want to trust your reading practices to such a service, there are some excellent stand-alone aggregator apps, one of the oldest and best-known of which is NetNewsWire. Around fourteen years ago (!) NetNewsWire was my gateway drug to RSS; I still remember those early versions with great fondness. 

Every now and then I come across an interesting site that doesn't have an RSS feed, but that's a rare experience. An RSS feed is just a URL, slightly different than the URL of a website, but all modern aggregators can find the RSS feed from the main site URL: you can just paste http://text-patterns.thenewatlantis.com into the aggregator's Add Site box to subscribe to this blog, for instance. Big sites — the New York Times, CNN, ESPN, the Guardian, and the like — will have many feeds, and most of them have a page where all those feeds are listed. (It might take a little googling to find it.) 

Over time you can build up a roster of sites that you keep regular track of, sites where you can find substantive news and ideas and a minimum of crap, and then you'll have a far better and more consistent source for what you want to know than social media can give you. Also, every aggregator and app I know of allows you to export that list as an OPML file, which you can then import into another service if you find one you like better than your original choice. 

Try RSS. You'll love it. 

13 comments:

  • I use and recommend an OS X application called Reeder.

  • I use the Old Reader and quite like it.

  • You got me off Twitter and on to Feedly months ago, Mr. Jacobs.

  • Yes, every few months I make another appeal for RSS -- I figure there's always someone who hasn't heard me on this before!

  • Also, as I mentioned in one of those earlier posts on this subject, I too use Reeder, on Mac and iOS (though for me the Mac version has been somewhat unstable and crash-prone).

  • 90%+ of what I read beyond print is through the greader app on my Android smartphone, as has been the case for a full decade. It was originally a third party app for Google Reader, but the developers brilliantly shifted to Feedly after Google's beyrayal. I visited Feedly once, to set up a free account and upload OPAL, and have been on greader autopilot ever since, occasionally deleting and very rarely adding feeds through the app. I think I paid a couple of dollars for the unsponsored app at some point, and can't imagine how Feedly has ever made a nickel off of me. I never see an add, and am experiencing (interface-wise) the same web I experienced in 2007.

    I have I never touched Twitter, and I have never touched a Jacobs website directly until just now, strangely inspired after over seven years of at least glancing over the vast majority of his posts (through this and his Snakes/Ladders feed, and IIRC several others over the years). As he has bounced around, RSS has followed seamlessly.

    I currently follow about 30 feeds, down from a max of probably triple that. I haven't read a comments thread in years. I believe this has been healthy for me but, in a bizarre twist, my aberration in coming here has revealed that I may have been missing something. Is that Freddie DeBoer commenting on The Old Reader? Have you two been having invisible discussions in comments all these years? I have no use for DeBoer in the Twitter context, but have had his feed in my RSS for as long as Jacobs. I probably found both of you via Andrew Sullivan. (I have felt guilty since his blogging exit for never having visited his website to donate, as his full RSS was always free.)

    In any case, I may have to set aside time this weekend to dig through the comments history of this old-school blog to see if there are any classic DeBoer/Jacobs exchanges that remain invisible to my RSS.

    The smartest conservative and the smartest leftist in my RSS are buddies. This is too cool for words.

  • Tim, Freddie does turn up here from time to time, and I have occasionally commented on his blog when comments were open, but our more interesting conversations happen on email. I think I may put our archive up for auction....

  • This comment has been removed by the author.
  • Heads would explode from Brooklyn to Berkeley and from Wheaton to Waco if that got out. Perhaps it would trigger a death blow to Twitter. Some kid in 2052 will have an easy road to a great Phd dissertation after getting hands on this archive. Please consider bequeathing to a non-U.S. institution.

  • I'd pay for the DeBoer/Jacobs archive. Please say things to each other at length in print or in public sometime!

  • I use Feedly & pay for a subscription. I have thousands (must be ~10K feeds, though many of those dormant, leftovers from Google Reader (imported) days).

  • Would love to see the sites you regularly visit...care to share the feeds?

  • TechCrunch's (in)famous "Rest in Peace, RSS" post proclaiming the death of RSS was stupid in 2009. It's even more stupid now.

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