How to Use RSS Feeds
In a world of overwhelm, why not Simplify?
Really Simple Sindication was created in the early 2000’s for the purpose of allowing the end user to aggregate the feeds of multiple websites into a single place, making it far easier to consume the kind of content that they want to. The internet’s Golden Child, Aaron Schwartz was even part of it’s development and adoption.
“Josh, you’re going to give me a hipster technology that is pretty much dead and tell me it’s going to change my life?”
First of all, RSS is far from dead - it’s always been a small percentage of internet users that have participated (just as power users are a small percentage of computer users). There are still MILLIONS of people that use RSS everyday. In tech, if you get a userbase of a few thousand, your app is likely successful, so 20 million or so active users is nothing to look down upon.
The sad part is that this technology could have completely revolutionised the internet, and allowed us to skip over social media feeds likely altogether. The reason? It is available on nearly every website of note allows you to forgo algorithms and third party curation, and you get to see what you want to see. There’s no algorithm - you see it all if you so choose; or none of it, with no advertisements whatsoever.
In the ultimate version of the web, where everyone has a website and property they own - you simply add their RSS feed into your reader, and you will be forever updated by that person going forward. You can click into their article and comment if you like, and if not, you can simply move on to the next article.
Ironically, when I started blogging in 2015 or so, this functionality was baked into all Wordpress sites, allowing you to build a following by writing what you wanted to.
How do I Personally use RSS?
I simply go into every single youtube channel I care about, every news site (be sure to get Eastern and Western perspectives in this day and age), Twitter handle, and blog - and I amalgamate them into my feed. No longer do I need to go to various sites to get any of this information, I can read headlines and click on the the ones that interest me, skip the ones that don’t, and get on with my life. I don’t have to worry about “blocking of websites” - the feed takes care of everything.
When I want to see what’s going on in the world, I open up Newsboat (with a quick key chord) and refresh. I generally do this a couple times per day, and spend a grand total of less than ten minutes doing so - unless there are a ton of cool articles and videos. I have a hotkey programmed to watch youtube videos outside the browser and to open up articles in browser.
The last I checked, I had a few hundred feeds in my Newsboat app - but some people add thousands.
If you’re not using RSS Feeds right now, you’d better be by the end of this article.
Let’s get into why you should use them.
Save Loads of Time
Perhaps my biggest draw (at first) to RSS feeds was the fact that it probably saves me 20+ minutes everyday. The reason for this is that I am able to quickly view all the things I want to follow without going to each individual site. Then, I can read the headlines and move on.
For most people, I assume that by bringing their feeds into a reader and not going to various sites, they could save over an hour a day. What would you do with an extra day every month?
RSS is a great way to get a 50,000 ft view on what’s going on in the world, and allows you to scan news stories, get up to date on any topic you care about, and quickly trash anything that you find irrelevant. Instead of picking up the New York Times, you should be opening your Feed Reader, and getting out of it in 5 minutes flat, unless something catches your eye that you want to dive deeper into.
Sure, as with all good things (Emacs, Vim, Self Hosting, Business…) there is an upfront time investment, but once you set a feed up, you have a one stop shop for everything that resonates with you. I believe that it would take even the most technically illiterate person no more than half an hour to set up an RSS feed.
I have a file with the feeds that I want to follow in my notes, and I simply move that file over to any computer or device and copy the feeds into the native reader app (Feeder for Android, Newsboat or Elfeed for desktop).
Decentralization and Personalization
We talk about taking the internet back for the little guy, but we discount using services that were built with the intention to do so.
Instead of allowing platforms to curate the content that we read, watch, and listen to, you can easily build a feed where you get timely updates, and you actually get to see everything that has been posted. The issue with most if not all modern social platforms is that they algorithmically feed you updates that aren’t even necessarily what you want to see.
If I want to read the Wall Street Journal, I want to read it, not follow it on Facebook and get updates sporadically. And, I don’t want RT to be censored just because certain parties don’t want me to be reading it right now in 2022.
If I really want to see your stuff on Instagram or Facebook, I’ll even create a feed for you (there’s plenty of tools to do this.) Spoiler though, I haven’t done this for anyone - and I don’t recommend you do, either. This could single handedly take you off of all your social platforms and create one for yourself, where you control everything you see, and can moderate it to your heart’s content.
You Can Create a Feed for Nearly Everything
When most people think of RSS feeds, they think of news sites. That’s where my mind goes classically, too. But - RSS Feeds aren’t only for news sites and blogs -
You want to follow someone on Twitter, but don’t want to be dragged down the endless abyss that is the Twitter app? How about a Youtuber, but don’t want to login to your Youtube Account? A public instagram account? A podcast you love? You can even create a feed for your Facebook friends (although I’m not sure why you’d want to.)
All of this is possible, and more. As I previously mentioned - you could use RSS to drop social media apps entirely. Interesting…
How do I set this all up?
Pick an app for your platform
The beauty of RSS is that it is fully cross platform, so you have ample choice of apps and services to use.
Some suggestions are:
Flipboard This one is bringing RSS back to the mainstream, and I can get behind the effort. I personally like a bit more customization than this allows, but if you want to dip your toes into the world of RSS, this is a good foray.
Feedly Cross platform, and highly suggested for my iOS people.
Feeder I use this on Android, you can find it in the F-Droid repository, and it’s very easy to set up.
Newsboat If you like your terminal applications, this is a solid one. I use it daily.
Elfeed If you are an Emacs wizard, here’s a news reader for you.
Obsidian Obsidian is overtaking Evernote and Notion for many reasons. You can integrate an RSS feed quite easily with the above repository.
Get a Feed
I will go in more depth about this on the Youtube video companion, but the best place to start is:
yourfavoritewebsite.com/rss OR yourfavoritewebsite.com/feed
It likely already has a feed for you to pull in without much issue. You can also google the site you wish to add to your feed, add ’RSS’ to the search, and you’re going to be off to the races.
Tell Your Friends, and Use RSS on your Personal Sites
I think the biggest shift will occur if more people jump on the RSS bandwagon. I’ve encouraged friends to start using it as it saves them time and effort, and you should too.
The fact you no longer have to go from website to website, scrolling endless social media feeds to see what’s new, and going to your Youtube subscriptions will save you unGodly amounts of time. And as we all know, time is the most important asset of all.
So what are you waiting for? Install a reader and go find your favourite feeds. Your life will be better off for it.