Let’s travel back in time to the internet’s teenage years, to when it was common to follow a personal blog, or join an open forum focused around a particular topic or community, without using any sort of mass-social media platform.
You’d simply keep up to date with your small corner of the internet using an RSS feed or email digest.
Nowadays, the default online behaviour is to consume an endless feed of low quality content, fed to you for free by a company who’s desperate to make money indirectly from your behaviour. All while, basing their success on some inhuman metric rather than your assessment or happiness with the service.
Does it keep you emotionally engaged while selling your data? Probably. Does it have the content you want to consume in the way you want? Probably not…
The unfortunate truth is that unfulfilling emotional engagement seems to earn more indirect income for social media giants rather than positive metrics. And so, that’s what they will focus on.
The good news is that there’s already a solution to this problem. A solution that I’ve just about fallen in love with all over again.
It’s not some new and untested fad. It’s open, reliable and everywhere online already. And, if you didn’t guess by the title, it’s RSS.
If you’re concerned about online privacy and security, or if you’re becoming tired of the often haphazard commercial or AI curated feeds with their ulterior motives… then getting back into RSS feeds might be for you.
You may begin thinking that a smaller internet would result in a socially negative affect, such as extremely concentrated ideas, or even more news bubbling, but recent information and human behavioural history seems to suggest otherwise. See Kurzgesagt recent video on social media for example.
It was just the right solution for me, and for thousands of others too.
The RSS Renaissance seems to be taking shape.
For those technical people, an RSS feed is a closer-to-human chronological content API endpoint.
For those non-technical muggles out there, an RSS feed is like subscribing to a feed of a Youtube Channel or social media profile of someone you like, just without the middle man.
RSS is decentralised by nature. You get content straight to the source, and have data portability built in! You control the content you consume, and in chronological order.
It’s similar to a notification system like an email newsletter than a modern, mystically curated social media feed.
*FYI: RSS has also been adopted by the podcast industry too, all your podcasts are actually running on RSS feeds under the hood too. *
You may also see the term “Atom” feed thrown around, just think of this as another name for RSS version 3.0.
First, find some feeds!
YouTube, somewhat surprisingly, still provides RSS feeds for channel and playlists, Reddit, Mastodon, Blogs and loads of websites all offer RSS feeds.
Side-note: Reddit’s RSS is an often overlooked consumer friendly solution to the Reddit API and third-party client lock-down of 2023.
Some web browser’s will show you the classic orange RSS icon when feeds are available for a site. Firefox used to do this by default, but now you’ll need the Livemarks extension.
You can typically just paste a site’s URL into your RSS reader, and it’ll find the feeds too.
That being said, you’ll need an “RSS reader” app, either on your phone, computer or on the web. Here are some that I’ve looked into a little:
- Feedbin (Web #OSS, macOS)
- Thunderbird (Desktops #FOSS)
- Livemarks Firefox Extension (Desktops #FOSS)
- Miniflux (Self-hosted #FOSS or Web)
- Feeder (Android app #FOSS)
- Newsflash (GNOME app #FOSS)
- Yarr (Self-hosted #FOSS)
- Feedrabbit (RSS by email)
#OSS = Open Source Software #FOSS = Free & Open Source Software
Although great for some, I would be cautious of the big and commercial RSS services like Inoreader, Feedly etc. They have similar analytics, venture capital and centralised curation features as the current social media giants, which we’re attempting to avoid by using decentralised RSS feeds.
Some RSS readers even provide new feed discovery services too, however a list of human curated feeds (sometimes called a blogroll) are usually the best IMO.
You then add the feed to your feed reader app, they come through directly from the source, that’s it.
The best thing is, it’s portable. If you don’t like the reader you’re currently using, just pick another and take your RSS feeds with you. You can download them as an OPML file.
Not all feeds are built the same. Some feeds provide the full content, some are filtered, and some only contain a snippet or excerpt of the content. Most modern RSS readers compensate and fetch the full content or media, providing a more streamlined experience.