Triggered by some of the previous postings on RSS, I started thinking about what my ideal set-up for RSS reading would be. Because maybe there’s a way to create that for myself.

A description of how I approach my feeds, and what I would ideally like to be able to do, I already penned a decade ago, and it hasn’t really changed much.

The basic outline is:

  • I think of feed subscriptions as subscribing to people. I don’t follow your blog, but I follow and interact with you. I used to have a blogroll that reflected that by showing the faces of people whose writing I read. Basically the web is my social network always, In my feed reader every feed title is the name of the author, not the blog’s title.
    my blogroll in 2005, people’s faces, not site names
  • The feeds I subscribe to, I group in folders by subjective social distance, roughly following Dunbar-style group sizes. The dozen closest to me, the 50, the 150, the 500 beyond that, and above that 999 for people I don’t have a direct connection with at all. So my wife’s blog feed is in folder a12, and if I’ve just come across your blog this week and we never met, your feed will be in e999. The Keep Track folder are my own content feeds from various platforms.
    the folders in my current feedreader by social distance
  • There are three reading styles I’d like my reader to support, of which it only does one.
    • I read to see what is going on with people I know, by browsing through their writing from closer to further away, so from the a12 folder towards the e999 folder. This my reader supports, by way of allowing a folder structure for it
    • I read outside-in, looking at the general patterns in all the new postings of a day: what topics come up, what are people working on, what do they care about. This is not supported yet, other than scrolling through the whole thing. A quick overview of topics versus social distance would be useful here.
    • I read inside-out, where I have specific questions, ideas or topics on my mind and want to see if some of the people in my reader have been wrting about it recently. This is not supported yet. A good way to search my feeds would be needed.
  • I would like to be able to tag feeds. So I can contextualise the author (coder, lives in Portugal, interested in privacy by design, works independently). This allows me to look at different groups of people across the social distance related folders. E.g. “what are the people I follow in Berlin up to this week, as I will be visiting in a few days?” “What are the current concerns in the IndieWeb community?” Ten years ago I visualised that as below
    Plotting contexts

    Social distances with community and multi-faceted contexts plotted on them

  • I would like to be able to pull in tags of postings and have full content search functionality. This would support my inside-out reading. “What is being said today in my feeds about that conference I didn’t go to?” “Any postings today on privacy by design?”
  • I think I’d like visual representations of which communities are currently most active, and for topics, like heat maps. Alerts on when the level of activity for a feed or a community or subsets of people changes would be nice too.
  • From the reader follow actions, such as saving an article, creating a todo from it, bookmarking it, or sharing it in some channel. An ideal reader should support all those actions, or let me configure actions
  • [UPDATED OCTOBER 2018] From reading a posting by Peter Rukavina I realised I’d also like to have built-in machine translation.

From the whole IndieWeb exploration of late, I realized that while no feedreader does all the above, it might be possible to build something myself. TinyTiny RSS seems a good starting point. It’s an open source tool you can run as your own instance. It comes with features such as filtering and auto-tagging that might fit my needs. It can be hosted on my own domain, and it has a database I then have back-end access to, to build features it doesn’t have itself (such as visualisations and specific sharing actions). It can also produce RSS feeds. It seems with TinyTiny RSS I could do all kinds of things to the RSS feeds I pull in on my server, and push the results out again as RSS feeds themselves. Those I could load into my regular reader, or republish etc.

Now need to find a bit of time to set it up and to play with it.

18 reactions on “My Ideal RSS Reader

  1. I was a bit surprised to see a Dutch title above one of Peter’s blog posts. It referred to the blog of Marco Derksen, that I follow. I think Peter may have found it in the list of blogs I follow (in OPML) that I publish.
    Peter read it through machine translation. Reading the posting made me realise I only follow blogs in the languages I can read, but that that is limiting my awareness of what others across Europe and beyond blog about.
    So I think I need to extend my existing list of demands for an RSS reader with built-in machine translation. As both Tiny Tiny RSS which I self host and Google translate have API’s that should be possible to turn into a script.

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  2. In the past weeks I’ve enjoyed using a bot that turns my blog’s RSS feed into an Activity Pub stream. That stream I follow from my Mastodon account, and that way I can ‘retweet’ any of my postings in an easy way. You too can follow my blog on Mastodon through the account @ton@bots.tinysubversions.com.
    The bot that turns RSS into Activity Pub was created by Darius Kazemi, a coding artist and art creating coder. In the context of musing about my ideal RSS reader, I started running my own Tiny Tiny RSS instance. Tt-rss is not only a feed reader but can also create feeds, e.g. from the things you bookmark or like while reading. So I thought if you’d mount the bot that Darius created on the back of Tt-rss, you could publish curated feeds of what you read not just as rss but as activity pub streams. I pinged Darius Kazemi to hear if the code is available.
    Screenshot of me resharing a blogpost on Mastodon.

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  3. In just over a week I will be joining the Nuremberg IndieWebCamp, together with Frank Meeuwsen. As I said earlier, like Frank, I’m wondering what I could be working on, talking about, or sharing at the event. Especially as the event is set up to not just talk but also build things.
    So I went through my blogpostings of the past months that concerned the indie web, and made a list of potential things. They are of varying feasibility and scope, so I can probably strike off quite a few, and should likely go for the most simple one, which could also be re-used as building block for some of the less easy options. The list contains 13 things (does that have a name, a collection of 13 things, like ‘odd dozen’ or something? Yes it does: a baker’s dozen, see comment by Ric below.). They fall into a few categories: webmention related, rss reader related, more conceptual issues, and hardware/software combinations.

    Getting WebMention to display the way I want, within the Sempress theme I’m using here. The creator of the theme, Matthias Pfefferle, may be present at the event. Specifically I want to get some proper quotes displayed underneath my postings, and also understand much better what webmention data is stored and where, and how to manipulate it.
    Building a growing list of IndieWeb sites by harvesting successful webmentions from my server logs, and publish that in a re-usable (micro-)format (so that you could slowly map the Indieweb over time)
    Make it much easier for myself to blog from mobile, or mail to my blog, using the MicroPub protocol, e.g. using the micropublish client.
    Dive into the TinyTinyRSS datastructure to better understand. First to be able to add tags to feeds (not articles), as per my wishlist for RSS reader functionality.
    Make basic visualisation possible on top of TinyTinyRSS database, as a step to a reading mode based on pattern detection
    Allow better search across TinyTinyRSS, full text, to support the reading mode of searching material around specific questions I hold
    Adding machine translation to TinyTinyRSS, so I can diversify my reading, and compare original to its translation on a post by post basis

    Visualising conversations across blogs, both for understanding the network dynamics involved and for discovery
    Digging up my old postings 2003-2005 about my information strategies and re-formulate them for networked agency and 2018
    Find a way of displaying content (not just postings, but parts of postings) limited to a specific audience, using IndieAuth.
    Formulate my Networked Agency principles, along the lines of the IndieWeb principles, for ‘indietech’ and ‘indiemethods’

    Attempt to run FreedomBone on a Raspberry Pi, as it contains a range of tools, including GnuSocial for social networking. (Don’t forget to bring a R Pi for it)
    Automatically harvest my Kindle highlights and notes and store them locally in a way I can re-use.
    These are the options. Now I need to pick something that is actually doable with my limited coding skills, yet also challenges me to learn/do something new.

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  4. Sebastiaan at IWC Nürnberg last weekend did some cool stuff with visualising feeds he follows, as well as find a way of surfacing stuff from outside his feeds because those in his feeds talk about it or like it. That is very exciting to me as it creates a peripheral view, and really puts your network to use as a filter. He follows up with a good posting on readers.
    Towards the end of that posting there’s some discussion of how to combat ways of feed overwhelm.
    That Sebastiaan, reminds me of what I wrote about my feedreading strategies in 2005 (take a look at the images there, they help in understanding the text that follows).
    I think it is useful to think not just of what you yourself consume in terms of feeds, and how to optimise that, but also in terms of the feedback loops you need/want back to the authors of some of your feeds.
    Your network is a filter, and a certain level of feedback is needed to be able to spot patterns that lift signals above the noise, the peripheral vision you described. Both individually and collectively. But too much feedback creates echo-chambers. So the overall quality of your network / network’s feeds and interaction is part of the equation in thinking about feed overwhelm. It introduces needs for alternating and deliberate phases of divergence and convergence, and being able to judge diversity and quality of your network.
    It’s in that regard very important to realise that there’s a key factor not present in your feeds that is enormously useful for filtering: your own personal knowledge about the author of a feed. If you can tag feeds with what you know of their authors (coder, Berlin, Drupal, e.g.), and how you perceive the social distance between you and them (from significant other to total stranger), you can do even more visualising by asking questions like “what are the topics that European front-end developers I know are excited about this week”, or by visualising what communities are talking about. Social distance also is a factor in dealing with overwhelm: I for instance read a handful of people important to me every day when they have posted, and others I don’t read if I don’t have time, and I therefore group my feeds by social distance.
    Finally, overwhelm is more likely if you approach feeds as drinking from a tap. But again, you know things that are not present in your feeds: current interests you have, questions you have, things you’re working on. A listener more likely hears those things better that are close to them. This points to less a river-of-news approach, and more to an active interrogation of feeds based on your personal ‘agenda’ at a time of your choosing.
    Fear of missing out is not important, especially not when the feedback loops, that I mentioned above, between authors exist. If it is a signal of some sort, and not noise, it will bounce around your network-as-a-filter for a while, and is likely to be there in some form still, when you next take a look. If it is important and you overlooked it, it will come up again when you look another time.
    Also see my posting about my ideal feedreader, from a few months ago.

  5. Last weekend during the Berlin IndieWeb Camp, Aaron Parecki gave a brief overview of where he/we is/are concerning the ‘social reader’. This is of interest to me because since ever I have been reading RSS, I’m doing by hand what he described doing more automatically.
    These are some notes I made watching the live stream of the event.
    Compared to the algorithmic timelines of FB, Twitter and Instagram, that show you what they decide to show you, the Social Reader is about taking control: follow the things you want, in the order that you want.
    RSS readers were and are like that. But RSS reading never went past linear reading of all the posts from all your feeds in reverse chronological order. No playing around with how these feeds are presented to you. And no possibility to from within the reader take actions based on the things you read (sharing, posting, bookmarking, flagging, storing etc.): there are not action buttons on your feedreader, other than mark as unread or archive.
    In the IndieWeb world, publishing works well Aaron said, but reading has been an issue (at least if it goes beyond reading a blog and commenting).
    That’s why he built Monocle, and Aperture. Aperture takes all kinds of feeds, RSS, JSON, Twitter, and even scripts pushing material to it. These are grouped in channels. Monocle is a reader on top of that, where he presents those channels in a nice way. Then he added action buttons to it. Like reply etc. Those actions you initiate directly in the reader, and always post to your own site. The other already existing IndieWeb building blocks then send it to the original source of the item you’re responding to. See Aaron’s posting from last March with screenshots “Building an IndieWeb Reader“, to get a feeling for how it all looks in practice.
    The power of this set-up is that it separates the layers, of how you collect material, how work on that material, and how you present content. It looked great when Aaron demo’d it when I met him at IWC Nürnberg two weeks earlier.
    For me, part of the actions I’d like to take are definitely outside the scope of my own website, or at the very least outside the public part of my website. See what I wrote about my ideal feed reader. Part of automation of actions I’d want to point to different workflows on my own laptop for instance. To feed into desk research, material for client updates, and things like that.
    I’m interested in running things like Aperture and Monocle locally, but a first step is exploring them in the way Aaron provides them to test drive. Aperture works fine. But I can’t yet get Monocle to work for me. This is I guess the same issue I ran into two weeks ago with how my site doesn’t support sending authorisation headers.

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