Revisiting RSS Feeds

Published April 19, 2021, 2:43 PM

by Professor Rom Feria

Not too long ago, using an RSS (Really Simple Syndication or RDF Site Summary) reader is the most popular way to consolidate all the blog posts and news sites that you follow or subscribe to. An RSS reader allows you to quickly get the latest and greatest articles, sometimes the moment it gets published. Whilst RSS is still very much alive and present (did you know that that podcast you subscribed to uses RSS?), its use has been eclipsed by the social network feed. Whilst your social network feed is somehow influenced by who you follow (what they write and share), but chances are, it is controlled predominantly by an algorithm — code that selects what you see, optimized for whatever parameters the social network sets it to.

Why use RSS Readers?

First and foremost, it is about freedom. Freedom from the algorithms that are trying to dictate what you can and cannot read. The algorithms used by social networks are tuned to generate maximum revenue for the social network, without regard to its users. Why do you think that disinformation and hate speech are spread rapidly and easily on these platforms? It is for maximum revenue generation! RSS readers give you back control — control in selecting your news sources.

Second, support for the open web. People should not rely on social networks for their news. Your favorite bloggers (including vloggers) and writers might not get prioritized by social networks, but adding their RSS feed on your RSS reader will surely surface their work.

Finally, suppress ads and trackers. Although there is no guarantee that all trackers and ads are blocked, RSS feeds often are stripped off these additional code that allow ads to be displayed or code that tracks you.

NetNewsWire, my preferred RSS reader

NetNewsWire

RSS readers are available as paid or free, on all platforms, such as iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, and Linux. Modern browsers even support it. If you use multiple devices, it makes sense to synchronize the RSS readers on different devices. Each RSS reader provides their own synchronization mechanisms.

I have chosen NewNewsWire as my weapon of choice. I have used NetNewsWire before, but managed to forget about RSS readers until a couple of years ago, when the leadership of NetNewsWire (NNW) was returned to Brent Simmons, the original developer. NNW is open source software managed and maintained by Ranchero Software, under Brent as lead. NNW is available on iOS, iPadOS and MacOS.

Before the release of the latest NetNewsWire 6.0.1 on the Mac, I relied on Feedly.com to synchronize NNW across my iPhone, iPad and Mac. Everything I have read on one device gets updated on the others. The latest Mac version supports iCloud synchronization — which allows me to stop using the third-party service, Feedly. However, unlike Feedly, there is no web-based interface available on the iCloud service, which is important during those instances when I am on my Linux desktop or Raspberry Pi. Luckily, NetNewsWire supports the free and open-source aggregator, FreshRSS.org, which is similar to Feedly, but only self-hosted (yay for freedom and support for the open web!).

Currently, my NetNewsWire on the Mac is setup to synchronize with my self-hosted FreshRSS instance. On the iPhone and iPad, I am running the latest beta, which supports iCloud and FreshRSS synchronization, too. Now I can rapidly scan the latest articles from news and blog sites, as well as the latest videos from my favorite YouTube channels, and determine which one to read or to discard.

Support the Open Web

If you are a writer, blogger or vlogger, post on your own site (and if you do not have a choice, post the link to your site on your favorite social network) and share the RSS feed. Don’t post exclusively on social networks because whatever you post on those sites no longer belongs to you. Bloggers, let’s bring back the blogroll!

 
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