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Twitter's not looking so hot. Time for RSS to shine again?
May 23, 2023
3 minutes read

I've been playing with some thoughts about RSS becoming relevant again for over a year now, but I wasn't sure anybody would be interested in hearing about it. Nowadays, it's fashionable to have opinions on the state of Twitter, so I can take this opportunity to shoehorn my half-baked ideas into the discussion.

The trouble with Twitter is just one instance of a larger challenge: social media sites are unreliable. Particularly in recent years, journalists and bloggers who depend on social media have found it difficult to distribute their content, get exposure and earn income. Just look at what's become of journalism - social media companies are a major competitor to newspapers for advertising sales, yet they are supposed to be instrumental in distributing news content? The model hasn't worked out so far, and the recent fall of BuzzFeed News and bankruptcy of VICE are evidence of that.

Social media users also have complaints about how complex algorithms are increasingly calling all the shots in terms of what they see. For example, Twitter started sorting user timelines around 2014. For a while, you had a choice between the original chronological "live feed" timeline or the ranked one. These days, you don't have that choice anymore. Not only that, but social media feeds nowadays are not just ranked, but also show you content from sources you did not actually follow or subscribe to. While this is good for content discovery, it comes at the cost of autonomy. You no longer have much choice over the content shown to you.

As it turns out, you can still have a news feed you control in 2023. RSS actually used to be the way to get information in real-time before social media, until Google ruined it for everyone. Times have certainly changed since the early 2000s internet, but RSS is well-positioned for a renaissance as more people discover its benefits. Some of the big ones:

  • You can use RSS feeds to follow news sources and other websites for free, and with no sign-up required1. This is in contrast to email newsletters, which I think people are getting tired of.
  • Corollary: Using RSS feeds can mean fewer emails.
  • You can get news in real time or custom-sorted. Feed readers are pretty simple and don't interfere with how you view the feeds.
  • Only see what you subscribed to.
  • Infrequently-updated sources are easier to follow. Feed readers let you set up folders/filters so it's easy to see when new stuff has been published.

Most websites publish an RSS feed, although they've gotten harder to find in recent years. Here is a decent guide to feed discovery. There are also many feed readers available, such as The Old Reader, feedly and Thunderbird.

If you're looking for a better way to get info and news than social media, then RSS is a solution worth trying.

  1. Although web-based feed readers probably need an account. [return]

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