Using RSS to read-only Twitter

The problem

I’ve been on Twitter for over a decade, and found that lately it’s been more depressing and less enjoyable. I follow around five hundred people, of which I’d estimate 2-300 actively tweet every month. Because many of the users I follow are friends of mine I want to keep up with their lives and jokes, but that leads me to compulsively check my Twitter client of choice throughout the day on iOS and Mac. This habit distracts me from doing other things like being bored or curious. Really, I miss things I want to see and see ads instead.

A test

While I thought about my problem last weekend, I saw yet another friend swear off of the bird site for the month—I wondered if I could do the same. Would I miss it? Would I have trouble restraining myself from the twitch to launch the app and check in? Further, since a few writers post links to long-form writing on Twitter, might I actually miss some truly good stuff?

RSS is my main avenue for reading longer-form articles, and keeping up with the news and tech news—what if I could also use RSS for a few important-to-me Twitter accounts? Twitter dropped official RSS support before most people even knew Twitter existed, so a native solution was out of the question. Fortunately, a friend in the #xoxo Slack pointed out that many RSS services handle this natively—including, it turned out, Feedbin.

As it says on the site: Feedbin is the best way to read Twitter. It’s even possible to only subscribe to media posts, or create and use a list of a few friends or publications.

How it went

After one day this test already feels pretty great. I saw a few updates in my RSS reader whenever I felt like checking-in, and I didn’t need to scroll through ads and other random posts to find the gems. The design of my RSS solution was such that I wasn’t encouraged to mindlessly like posts, or respond with commentary—I could text or talk to folks in Slack instead.

There was a real twitch by the end of the first couple days, where I kept thinking, “launch Twitter and say something or read something,” but fortunately I held out.

As a solution for “where do I say random things?” I created a drafts doc in iAWriter where I put my weird ideas. Perhaps I’ll blog some or post some in my newsletter in the future as a single roll-up of random Brook thoughts.

Want to do the same?

If this seems interesting to you, you’ll need three things:

  • An RSS backend. I prefer Feedbin because it’s private by default and is actively developed. It costs $5 a month, but is outstanding. Easily this is one of the most dependable, useful services I pay for every month.
  • An RSS app/reader. I prefer apps that work well across all the platforms I use: iPad OS, iOS, and MacOS. Reeder is made by a small shop, charges a small price for a very polished client with regular updates. Feedbin also has an app that is pretty great, and soon NetNewsWire will also have an iOS client. Try a few of these apps and see what suits your fancy.
  • Twitter usernames you’d like to follow, or a list of those users. For this step, I highly recommend limiting yourself to users who tweet infrequently, or folks you absolutely love to read tweets from. Some folks are just joyful and funny, and I feel glad to see their updates whenever I check in. Other users are high-signal, but low frequency, so they’re also ideal for this experiment.

Also two books I recommend if you’re considering this and other ways that your life is made worse by a twitch to open things on your phone whenever life gets a little dull:

There’s a strong temptation to replace Twitter or other social networks with “productivity”, but in my opinion, this is a trap, and what we actually can do is leave space for creativity, boredom, and the world around us. Every minute of every day doesn’t need to be “productive”, and one doesn’t need to flit from activity to activity like a hummingbird with an MBA.

Finally, I’d recommend Slacking, emailing, or texting anyone you’d like to “reply” to when you read something enjoyable. For a lot of folks, myself included, there’s a real community to Twitter on the best of days, and I don’t want to lose touch with people I like on there, so reaching out, actually reaching out, might just work.