Google Reader died in 2013, a moment that many Very Online rue. Google killed a service that was able to connect people easily to all of the information sources that they wanted to follow, and even if there wasn’t a social network, or monetizable ads, or anything like that, it was a very useful service. When it went away, all that was left for people to follow news was social media. And we all know how Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more have gone as sources of verifiable information.
But now, with the looming downfall of Twitter and the refocus of Facebook on the metaverse, there is again a space for people to curate their information space in a different way. And for me, at least, I’ve been going back to that which I left when Google Reader shut down: RSS feeds.
The joy of RSS fees is that, primarily, they are a private and personal way to consume information. You get to select the sources that you want, and then you get to consume them in your reader without seeing all of the commentary from the uncle you haven’t seen in two years, brigading misogynists and homophobes, crypto-reply guys, or anything else. It is quite a refreshing experience to sit with the information that you’re interested in by yourself; it is almost like curating a personal magazine for yourself that you get to pop into whenever you want.
RSS is a technology that is still built into most website across the internet, even if it is not as prominent as it once was. And it is still the primary technology behind podcasts, even if Spotify is trying to make that more proprietary. But just an RSS feed by itself doesn’t do you anything: you need a feed reader or feed aggregator to bring all of your sources and interests together into one place. After the downfall of Google Reader, a bunch of different options popped up, but none has ever reached the singularity that was Reader. However, there are a bunch of good ones out there, depending on what you want.
Feedbin is the one I currently use, and I like it because it the couple of different ways that people are mainly subscribing to text content these days. In addition to just pasting in an RSS feed yourself, Feedbin can go find the feeds for any website you want to follow. But the killer feature that I love is the fact that they give you a bespoke email address so that you can put all of the newsletters to which you subscribe in the same place as your RSS feeds. Having one place for both of these has upped my use of newsletters substantially, as has the fact that it gets them out of my regular email inbox. Don’t look at my inbox, it’s a mess.
I previously used Newsblur, which is also a very similar experience to Google Reader; however, the pace of updates to that seems to have slowed, and when I left it was getting crufty around the edges. Tiny Tiny RSS was another program I used, and it was even closer to the exact Google Reader experience; the catch here, however, is that this is a self-hosted application, so you have to be used to deploying a server and docker containers. Feedly is the most popular feed aggregator out there, and I know a lot of people like it; I just haven’t used it personally.
The downside of RSS is that is another inbox to maintain, like your email, like your to-do list, like a bunch of other things. But if you want to curate a more precise and personal news experience than any algorithm could ever give you, I suggest you give it a try!