I began writing this ProtoPost about RSS several months before Google announced the sunset of its Reader project. Then, when that happened, I set about revising this as a search to weigh the different RSS readers to take Google Reader’s place. After that I let it stew a while until pretty much completing most of my wishes for RSS, so that is what I am here to discuss.
My History and Rationale
I’m a believer of letting the Internet come to you. The amount of time I’ve wasted on the Internet is incalculable, and, as I became aware of that time, it behooved me to make my consumption more streamlined and efficient.
At my worst, I would find myself viewing the same content multiple times. This is back in the when people still visited digg.com. There you have an auto-scrolling feed of links to news articles and random pieces of interest to nerds on the Internet, appearing in the feed in the order and visibility as voted by said nerds. Not even articles themselves mind you, just links with link titles. How often would I type www.digg.com into my browser to not miss any of that crucial information? Often enough to find myself looking at the same exact list of links dozens of times. On the other hand, if I didn’t check the site for a whole day or more, I’d have to declare bankruptcy if I didn’t want to go down the line and try to recall where I started seeing links I’ve seen before.
So, I began using RSS feeds. This would allow me to not miss an item but also never repeat viewing any item. One top of those 2, I had a central hub where Internet content would come to me rather than the other way around.
My unscientific findings report that Feedly somehow became the preeminent winner of the majority of Google Reader users that actually went on to still employ RSS. I scratch my head at this because I hate Feedly. I hate its layout, I hate its mobile app, and I hate its mobile web interface. Still, I use it, but only because I can’t get to my current favorite Inoreader from work (due to some nonsensical routing that I can do nothing about). Last I checked with him, Tim was using Feedbin. I gave that a shot but a bunch of my feeds didn’t work in it, and I couldn’t be bothered to even give their customer support a list of the ones that didn’t work.
There’s more that could be said about readers, but I’m tired of worrying about it. The ultimate solution would be to run a TinyTinyRSS on my own server, and then I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone other than myself for any further issues.
The Last Brick
The last brick for my RSS house was a way to send random articles to my RSS reader, and the reason why I was spurred to complete this ProtoPost was because I finally solved the puzzle.
My RSS feed is my to-read list, but there was no good way to add an article that wasn’t already on my feed to that list. Something like 4 years ago, I opened a blogspot account, would put videos and links there, and that subscribed to the blog’s feed to have it stored later. Unfortunately, logging into blogspot was cumbersome, so I quit soon after.
But, just recently, I found the best solution so far in Readability. Via the Readability browser extension, you can save articles and those articles will show up in an RSS feed for your account. Here is mine, if you want an example. I haven’t tried it yet, but there’s a mobile app for that lets you do the same. There’s also an email address that goes with your Readability account that you can just send up to 20 links at a time, and it’ll tack those onto your read later list. This is perfect for someone like me who works at a place that frowns at browser extensions.
From here, I’m going to list a bunch of RSS tricks that I’ve collected over the years.
- Create a feed where there is none
Create your own feed from a website that doesn’t have one with Feed43. I used to subscribe to Toothpaste for Dinner this way before he had a feed going. If you spend some time with this, you can do some fancy stuff with it, like pulling a webcomic image out of an update and bringing that and nothing else to your reader view. I haven’t found a need to use this recently, but it’s one for the toolbox.
- Subscribe to a twitter feed
Twitter used to have an RSS option, but they closed that not long after Google discontinued Reader. Enter www.rssitfor.me, which is how I keep track of my must-read accounts on twitter. However, there are limitations. I usually get the tweets a day late, and it only works for open (i.e. non “private”) twitter feeds. Example: http://www.rssitfor.me/getrss?name=%40NeilHamburger
- Manipulate with Yahoo Pipes
Yahoo has a service called Pipes takes the Unix concept of pipes to the web. That means you can “pipe” web content through a bunch of functions and spit it out altered however you want. It seems really powerful, but all I’ve really done is taken a long feed and truncated it to a desired number of items. Here’s an example of how it is done:
And here is what the above piping will output, just 10 items instead of 17: http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=2313553842800443a0bb8b2c417d99f5&_render=rss
The next most useful thing I can think of for Pipes would be to filter out words in a feed, like if you took the SlickDeals RSS feed which has all of the site’s front page deals and then either exclude items containing certain words (i.e. “protein powder”) or include only those containing one of a set of words (i.e. “laptop”).
Hidden RSS feeds and/or feeds of interest
You can get a feed of a Youtube channel. Take this format: http://www.youtube.com/rss/user/YOURCHANNELNAME/videos.rss, replace the obvious part, and get a feed like this: www.youtube.com/rss/user/davidmitchellsoapbox/videos.rss
Patch is a lame way to get your local news, but, if you’re like me, there may be a dearth of local news outlets from which you can get feeds. The one thing Patch does have is that it’s everywhere. Even though it’s not advertised, there is an RSS feed for it. Here is an example of mine: http://towson.patch.com/articles.rss
reddit sucks as a place to get useful news, but it works well as a way to keep up with links on certain topics filtered by how important the community for each topic thinks the links are. There is a hidden RSS feed for these which can give a list of topics sorted by popularity by day, week, month, or year. Here’s an example of the top content for D&D 5e over the past month: http://www.reddit.com/r/dndnext/top/.rss?sort=top&t=month
Groupon has a feed based on locations. I don’t follow it, but it might be worth your while to check it out and sub your location in place of Baltimore to see if it works: http://feeds.feedburner.com/grouponbaltimore
Soundcloud allows RSS feeds, but it’s up to the owner of the account to first enable the feed and then put the feed link somewhere. Pretty lame, but it’s possible: http://help.soundcloud.com/customer/portal/articles/1197932-how-do-i-find-my-rss-feed-
Here are a few more random tools and one RSS community that helped me with a lot of my questions.
RSS is one of those things that I thought hardly anyone used anymore, but I was surprised at the amount of people who joined in the outcry when Google Reader shuttered. Still, many found it easy enough to live without RSS, and instead just keep up with the stream of updates from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I will stand by RSS as long as it is viable for the ability it grants me to never miss an update without having check hundreds of sites of interest. I do wish it was better, but it’s one of those tools that is only as good as we all make it, and it doesn’t appeal to the lower common denominator. It’s a power tool for power users, not without its flaws and quirks.
I welcome feedback on any questions, anything you found useful, discussion of your favorite RSS reader, the future of RSS, or any RSS tricks that you employ.