A brief RSS primer

(This is a fragment that I may or may not put into a newsletter. I pulled it out in order to have it linkable elsewhere, because some of this is practical instruction. This is why it sort of just drops in and out in medias res.)

For those born after the Commodore 64, RSS is a protocol that was part of the original design for the Internet whereby a website (generally some variant on a blog, but really anything that has periodically updating content) can send you updates to a centralized place. You can get feeds from several of the Normal Web Places, including Tumblr, and, I see while looking up something else, Pinterest for some reason. There is also now a thing called RSS-Bridge, which will take several of the siloed or otherwise unavailable services and translate them into the more democratic medium of RSS. That link is to the GitHub page where you can set up your own, but multiple people have set up public servers1.

I have an application, Reeder, which lives on both my Mac and my iOS devices, and provides me with a collection of new stuff that people have produced. There are plenty of other RSS readers, with various features, but if you don’t have any specific needs this one is functional and attractive.

RSS is inherently decentralized. You can just keep a local list of places you want to get feeds from, and plenty of people do. If you want to keep synchronization between what you’ve read on your phone and what you’ve read on your computer, you’re going to want a backend service which does that2. I like FeedBin, but Feedly and Inoreader are also nice, with a slightly different set of features. These also all have local clients that take the place of Reeder mentioned above, I just like Reeder’s interface more. There are others. The main thing I like about FeedBin is the fact that it allows you to forward emails to it and have it read. I have a filter set up in gmail that takes all of the newsletters from all the interesting people and sends them to FeedBin, and I have it set up so that I have various sets of feeds, filtered by what I’m in the mood for. I get a slow trickle of useful things I can access on my own schedule, and I barely even want to look at twitter anymore.

  1. Tip of the tinfoil hat to Warren on that one.↩︎

  2. Google built one of the first services to do this, got everyone invested in their front end, and shut down the whole thing with very little warning, thus pissing off a lot of people and providing a good example as to why inherently decentralized” is good.↩︎

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