With the death of Google Reader in 2013 it seems like many folks gave up on RSS. Fortunately, not only is RSS still alive, but it’s thriving. Between Newsletters and a return to blogging by many writers, thinkers, and web folks, RSS is an excellent way to find news and joy. While Twitter and other networks flounder, open standards provide a simple way to read. RSS means no trolls and no reply gifs. It’s you, and the content.
My RSS history
As a long time nerd and tech news reader, I’ve used RSS steadily since the early 2000s, when MacOS RSS programs like NetNewsWire and Vienna were fresh. I used RSS on Nokia phones, but the iPhone was revelatory. Version 2.0 of Reeder ensured a unified experience of RSS on my iPhone, my iPad, and my Mac—at the time I predominantly used a MacBook Air and an iPhone 4—which meant that by popping in the URLs of various sites, I could stay up to date at my desk or on the go. I continued to use Reeder until recently, when in preparation for Reeder 4.0 the app’s creator made it free, but stopped regular updates. Throughout this time, my RSS feed list changed, but usually had Daring Fireball, whatever Robin Sloan was working on, tech news, creative friends, and writing on productivity and bags. Some sites stayed around, and some died down, only to return. It’s always been relaxing to know that my news feed would appear every morning, and update throughout the day, which no social buttons or comments. This was the modern newspaper we were promised. It worked in many apps, tons of them were free, and you could save them until you were ready. Folks have worried about information overload since the beginning of RSS, and really, since the early 1900s, but I find RSS to be a simple way to store, view, and save stories.
Almost 20 years into using RSS, I’ve settled into Feedbin for the backend (and yes, I pay for it), with its excellent web client on my work MacBook Pro. It’s lovingly developed, and has a strong stance on user privacy which I feel like folks rarely do these days. On my iPad and iPhone, I’ve enjoyed Fiery Feeds, which is independently developed, and even has a public feature roadmap. Both of these readers have good dark mode support, keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to sync across platforms.
I subscribe to newsletters with Kill the Newsletter, which lets me see emails as RSS feeds, and gives me less reason to feel beholden to my Inbox. It’s nice. Lots of folks have newsletters these days. It’s easy to subscribe and unsubscribe, and it’s even possible to make a decent living writing emails to hundreds of people. Knowing that on Sundays I’ll have a few new missives in my inbox or RSS feed makes me happy. These writers aren’t hoping for more clicks for a truck or razor brand; posts are either free, or supported through a simple monthly donation. Single authors don’t need hypergrowth, just some loyal readers with a few hundred at $5 a month leading to a decent annual salary. This could be naive, but it feels like most of these Newsletter writers do halfway out of a compulsion to share, and halfway out of the joy of writing.
Usually when I’m interested in reading something, but don’t have time, I save it to Safari’s Reading List, which not only saves the site’s URL for later, but saves the page offline, so you can catch up on reading while under the water, or in the air commuting. In the past I liked Instapaper, but found that having a bespoke read-it-later app meant I was too likely to collect old articles that I rarely read. Using Safari means all my saved posts are just a shortcut away when I have Safari open. Sometimes I star something instead—mostly because Feedbin’s site doesn’t have a good Safari Reading List shortcut. Either way, once my feed is marked as read, at some point that day I’ll read the stories and articles I saved.
In the morning, while I’m getting ready, I usually listen to a podcast or music, and scan through my RSS feed. Even on a heavy news day, I have under 80 articles listed around 8am, and most of them get scrolled-by with nary a glance. This means I can parse what’s happening very quickly while I pour hot water on bean crumbs and head to the bus stop. Much like reading email, I try to only visit my RSS reader a few times a day, but unlike a social media site, there aren’t features designed to entice me to tap the “more” button like a rat in a cage. It’s pleasant. It’s slow. It has the people and things I choose in it.
The future of social reading
I still use Twitter, but find myself typically talking about and sharing stories and interesting things in private Slack instances with people I care about or work with. This means I get to have a pleasant chat about a new book without seeing twenty posts about the world ending. I still see news, but with much less repetition and FUD. If a feed doesn’t spark joy, I let it go. SMTP and RSS may be old, but theirs’ is a lasting peace, and I hope if you haven’t delved into them recently, you revisit these tools. This year I am trying to slow down, take joy in rest, and find kindness for myself. I want a better world, and to fight for it, I need time away from the firehose. In RSS, I’ve found a serene pond.