You should be using RSS
Sunday, June 5, 2022
I often go to social media to get news about topics that interest me. Be it web development, gardening life hacks or political news, I can follow people or topics that interest me. But instead of reading about those topics, I often get sucked into an endless hole of content that I did not sign up for. Social media companies deliberately do not want you to limit what is shown to you. It would be too easy to leave and not spend your time watching their precious ads.
But there is another way! By subscribing to RSS feeds you are in control of what you are shown. Most websites, blogs, news sites and even social media sites provide RSS feeds to subscribe to. You get only the articles, videos or audio content you are subscribed to, without any algorithm messing with your attention.
But what exactly is an RSS feed?
RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication", and it is a protocol for a website to provide a list of content. It is an old protocol, the first version was introduced in 1999, but it might be more useful nowadays than ever. If you listen to podcasts, you are already familiar with RSS feeds: a podcast is an RSS feed which links to audio files instead of online articles. An RSS feed is just an XML document which contains information about the feed and a list of content. When you use an app to subscribe to an RSS feed, this app will just save the URL to the XML document and load it regularly to check if new content is available. You are completely in control of how often the feed is refreshed and what feeds you want to subscribe to. Some RSS reader apps also allow you to specify some rules for example about if you should be notified, based on the feed, the content or the tags.
How to subscribe to a feed?
Since an RSS feed is just an XML document, you don't technically have to subscribe to a feed to read it, you could just open the document and read the XML. But that would be painful. Luckily there are several plugins, apps and services that allow you to easily subscribe to and read RSS feeds.
If you want to start using RSS and are not sure if you will take the time to open a dedicated app, I would recommend using an RSS plugin for another software that you are using regularly. For example, the Thunderbird email client already has built-in RSS support. If you want to read to the feeds directly inside of your browser, you can use the feedbro extension for Chrome, Firefox, and other Chromium-based browsers. I use the Vivaldi browser which comes with an integrated RSS feed reader.
What if there is no RSS feed?
Unfortunately not every website offers an RSS feed. Although it might be worth it to hunt for them. Some websites offer an RSS feed but do not link to it anywhere. If there is no feed, but a newsletter is offered, the service "Kill The Newsletter" will provide you with email addresses and a corresponding RSS URL to convert any newsletter to a feed. Another service to consider is FetchRSS. It turns any website into an RSS feed.
If you want to have a dedicated app for your reading, you're in luck! There is a plethora of apps to choose from, all with different features and user interfaces. There are three main types of apps: standalone apps, service-based apps, and self-hosted apps. Most apps are standalone, meaning they fetch the RSS feeds only when open, and don't sync to your other devices. The service-based apps rely on a cloud service which will fetch the feeds around the clock, even when all your devices are off. They can also send you a summary mail if you forget to check for some time and they can sync your subscriptions across all your devices. Unfortunately, most service-based apps only offer a limited experience for free. The last category is self-hosted apps. They are similar to the service based apps but instead of some company running the service, you have to provide a server for the service to run yourself.
I use a standalone app, because I do not want to rely on a service, but I also don't want to go through the hassle of setting up a self-hosted solution.
If you are still unsure what RSS app you could try out, I provided a list below. Make sure to add the RSS feed for my blog (
https://tiim.ch/blog/rss.xml) to test it out 😉
- Thunderbird (Free, OSS)
- RavenReader (Free, OSS)
- NetNewsWire (Free, Integration with Services possible)
- Vivaldi Browser (Free)
- feedbro browser extension (Free)
- Feeder (Freemium, 10 feeds for free)
- Inoreader (Freemium, Ads and 150 feeds for free)
- NewsBlur (Freemium, 64 feeds for free)
- Feedspot (Non-free)
- Feedly (Non-free)
- Feedbin (Non-free)