RSS what now?
If you’re new here—on the Internet, not the Gang—you might be unaware of the concept known as “there are other websites on the Internet.” If you ever wondered “how did this person I follow on social network XYZ even find this link to this cool thing? Are you telling me there are other websites out there?? What sorcery is this? Begone, you evil mage!” You keep seeing people write and talk and wear cool t-shirts about RSS? Fellow gangster, have I got just the content for you!
So, what is this RSS thing people won’t shut the fuck up about? Well, RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and it works by pure magic. There’s a whole history there, but, really, it doesn’t matter how it works. The important thing is that it does work, and it has been working for almost a quarter of a century. The main thing you need to understand is how to use it. So, let’s go.
Most stuff on the open internet can speak RSS. It goes like this: I have a website—which I actually do, this one—and I publish some content. Someone else also has a website—and they sure do—and they publish some stuff there that I like to read. Then, a totally different entity has yet another website where they publish stuff, et cetera, you get the idea. You, fellow gangsters, who are all about efficiency start to wonder: “Do I have to go to all these websites I like to read daily/hourly/minutely and hit refresh on each and every one of them daily/hourly/minutely?” Well, if you RSS, the answer is no.
See, when you use an RSS reader (or client/app/software) you simply (a nod to the second S) subscribe to the website’s RSS feed, and the RSS reader/client/app/software will fetch any new items for you whenever the folks who run the websites you like publish new stuff. And that’s it. No more opening 132 tabs to see what’s new over at Hack A Day. Or Defector. Or pretty much any website that doesn’t require you to log in. Also, you can subscribe to almost anything running on top of ActivityPub. Yes, you can likely follow any Mastodon account over RSS. And this website here, too.
Let’s say that, in principle, you’re bullish on the idea of not having to open or refresh a whole bunch of tabs every day. You sure as shit won’t allow websites to “notify” you when something happens. You just want to go to one place and read all 48 new articles from, I don’t know… let’s pick a local news outlet, The Onion. Sure, you can go to Instagram for that, but you’re cool and old school. You simply subscribe to their RSS, and your RSS reader will do the rest for you. And by “the rest”, I really mean the rest: some RSS readers can even read the article and summarize it for you, you lazy-but-technically-savvy savant.
Sold! How do I do it? Well, there’s a fairly good list of options here, but I’ll list my faves:
- Feedbin – 30-day trial, then $5. This is what I use.
- Readwise Reader – 2 months free with this link, then $8. I also use this.
- Omnivore – Free for now. Open source and it looks really cool.
- Wallabag – If you want to self-host, this is for you.
- The good old Mozilla Thunderbird – Free and iconic.
I strongly recommend you steer clear of Feedly.
Keep in mind that many of the apps above are more than simple RSS readers. Some are also “read later” apps like Pocket or Raindrop.io, some (all?) can handle newsletter subscriptions, sync notes, and a whole lot more.
After you pick one, just start adding feeds. The vast majority of RSS readers will take the regular URL and figure out the feed URL for you, so you can subscribe to The Onion by adding
https://www.theonion.com instead of
https://www.theonion.com/rss. And, as I’ve mentioned, you can subscribe to ActivityPub’d stuff, too! For example, if you want to have an RSS feed with my Mastodon bullshit, you just need to add .rss to my public profile:
https://firstname.lastname@example.org. This should work for most—if not all—fediverse stuff.
Now we can all reinvent Google Reader, because sharing our feeds and articles was the coolest thing.