A few months ago I added an OPML export of all my feeds manually to the sidebar as Blogroll. This week I installed an instance of TinyTinyRSS, to see if I can take it closer to my ideal feedreader. TinyTinyRSS provides a public URL of all the feeds as OPML. So now that link is my automatically updated OPML blogroll in the sidebar. (As long as I keep my TinyTinyRSS reader in sync with my offline reader)

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

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.

Google Reader five years dead

Five years ago, on July 1st 2013, Google killed their Google Reader. It was then probably the most used way to keep track of websites through RSS.

RSS allows you to see the latest articles from a website, and thus makes it easier to keep track of many different blogs and sites all at once. RSS is a very important part of the plumbing of internet.

I used to read everything through RSS, but over time people migrated to FB, stopped blogging, fell silent. Services like Twitter stopped providing RSS, website owners forgot it was a standard feature. Google Reader stopping meant that many casual users stopped reading the web with RSS. Browsers stopped visibly supporting it.

Five years on, Dave Winer writes, Google Reader centralised a decentralised technology. We should have been more alert, choose an independent tool to read, and not hand it to a silo. Frank Meeuwsen says similar things, that removing the biggest RSS reader made room for new growth and variety.

Therefore:

Long Live RSS

Aral Balkan, timed with the 5th anniversary of Google Reader’s demise, blogged “Reclaiming RSS“, explaining what it does. RSS is an important part of letting the web be what it is best at, a decentralised space where all can read and write. Earlier in April Wired called for a RSS Revival as well.

How I read RSS
I interact with people, I don’t follow sites. That is how I shape and perceive my RSS reading, having all the feeds named after their authors, and grouping them in my reader roughly along my perceived social distance. From a group of people closest to me, to people I know well, not very well, to strangers whose writing I came across. Roughly following Dunbar-like group size levels. See the image below. This is because I see blogging as distributed conversations: you write something, I respond with some of my own writing. Blogposts building upon blogposts. So I set up my feedreader to reflect that conversational aspect. I use ReadKit currently, as I prefer an offline reader.


Screenshot of part of my RSS reader, in rough groups of social distance

You can find the link to my blog’s RSS feed in the right side column (with the orange icon). Any feedreader should also be able to automatically detect my blog’s feed if you point it to my web address.
I also publish which feeds I am reading. On the right hand side you see a link to ‘OPML Blogroll‘ which is a file of all the feeds I currently read that machines can read (the list is a bit out of date, but I update it every month or so). Any feed reader should be able to import that file.

In 2005 I described how I read RSS then, in response to Lee Lefever asking about people’s RSS reading routines. The current ‘grouping by social distance’ way of reading I have is the result of the search I mention at the end of that blogpost, on how to deal with a larger number of feeds.

How do you read RSS feeds?

Thirteen years on, I’m curious how you use RSS. How many feeds, what (daily) routine, what topics? How do you read RSS feeds?
I look forward to reading your take on it in my feedreader.

Wired is calling for an RSS revival.

RSS is the most important piece of internet plumbing for following new content from a wide range of sources. It allows you to download new updates from your favourite sites automatically and read them at your leisure. Dave Winer, forever dedicated to the open web, created it.

I used to be a very heavy RSS user. I tracked hundreds of sources on a daily basis. Not as news but as a way to stay informed about the activities and thoughts of people I was interested in. At some point, that stopped working. Popular RSS readers were discontinued, most notably Google’s RSS reader, many people migrated to the Facebook timeline, platforms like Twitter stopped providing RSS feeds to make you visit their platform, and many people stopped blogging. But with FB in the spotlight, there is some interest in refocusing on the open web, and with it on RSS.

Currently I am repopulating from scratch my RSS reading ‘antenna’, following around 100 people again.

Wired in its call for an RSS revival suggests a few RSS readers. I, as I always have, use a desktop RSS reader, which currently is ReadKit. The FB timeline presents stuff to you based on their algorithmic decisions. As mentioned I definitely would like to have smarter ways of shaping my own information diet, but then with me in control and not the one being commoditised.

So it’s good to read that RSS Reader builders are looking at precisely that.
“Machines can have a big role in helping understand the information, so algorithms can be very useful, but for that they have to be transparent and the user has to feel in control. What’s missing today with the black-box algorithms is where they look over your shoulder, and don’t trust you to be able to tell what’s right.”,says Edwin Khodabakchian cofounder and CEO of RSS reader Feedly (which currently has 14 million users). That is more or less precisely my reasoning as well.