The Best™ way to follow content (RSS Feeds)

in #techlast year


Video Version

Sorry, the video's audio didn't turn out too good, though it's not a total loss.

Text Version

I hopefully got your attention with that title, but yeah, if you are willing to put a little bit of legwork I will lay out why I personally like RSS feeds and prefer to use them over other ways to subscribe to content. And I really do mean anything. You want to follow a twitter account? RSS Feeds. YouTube videos, or videos on another video platform? RSS Feeds. Want to avoid filling up your inbox with newsletters for blogs or project updates? RSS feeds.

Feeds aren't really all that new, in fact they are almost as old as I am. The concept is pretty simple, you have a file accessed over the internet which lists off a bunch of different “items” which your feed reader can view and show to you. Whenever the feed is updated the feed reader sees that and shows it to you, and whenever you open the entry the reader marks it as read and likely hides it. These entries can be just about anything, from written content like news articles, to YouTube videos, to the top posts of a sub reddit.

Now, there’s a few reasons why I like this sort of setup, so I figured I would lay them out before I run down the basics on reading them (though they’re pretty simple), and what your options for readers are. The first reason worth talking about feeds is privacy. Unlike, say, a YouTube account with subscriptions, you don’t need to create any sort of account to subscribe to feeds, even, for example, if you subscribe to a bunch of YouTube channels through feeds. In the case of text content you can usually read it within the reader, and in the case of some content such as videos you can open it in an external web browser and view without signing in.

Secondly, feeds allow a lot more customization in how you view your content. Usually, if you are loading text based articles within your feed reader you just get the text without a million images, ads, and recommended posts. If you are opening the link in a browser, such as with YouTube, you can load it into something like NewPipe or a browser of your choosing with your own customization. This could be, say, a browser with ad block and sponsor block that clears cookies the second you close it (this is doable on Android with the Fennec fork of Firefox allowing desktop add-ons).

Third, there’s no algorithms or recommended content, just the content you specifically subscribed to. For some people that might be a drawback, but personally I find it a bit more productive to consume the content I want to while cutting out any distractions or rabbit holes that I could end up going down.

Last, you can easily mix and match content. Take videos for example, if you were to watch YouTube from within the app, from within NewPipe, or by loading the site and viewing your subscriptions from within a web browser then you are stuck on YouTube. Personally, for example, if anybody is hosting a PeerTube instance they keep up to date I would prefer to watch it on there since they went through the effort to get it running. Or, for example, when creators like Mental Outlaw post additional content on Odysee that they don’t post on YouTube. While I’ve used feeds on and off for years, this is what got me to switch my video watching all to feeds somewhat recently. While manually checking one or two channels on Odysee, a couple of PeerTube instances, plus a half dozen Substacks and blogs is something that would be a bit time consuming, feeds make it super easy. For example, you can easily have a folder for video subscriptions, and subscribe to a bunch of channels over a half a dozen different platforms, and still never even notice it since they get merged into the same list of content as if you were looking at a YouTube subscription list.

So, if you’re still interested, here’s where I’ll go over the basics of reading feeds and what different setups you can choose. The process is pretty simple, you just take the feed link and add the feed to your reader. It’s usually advertised with the RSS icon, but I’ll also probably write about getting feeds for a whole bunch of services that don’t advertise it (video platforms, social medias, ect). Next, though it varies according to what reader you are using, you can generally name the feed, add it to a particular folder or group, and chose how the reader will open the content that comes in. In the video version I add a few feeds to the Feeder app (my favorite feed reader for Android).

You have a few options to view feeds though. My favorite way is to just use the Feeder app on Android and Thunderbird on my computer (though there are tons of options for local feed reading software). I usually access the feeds on a phone, tablet, and computer, so one drawback with this setup is I can’t track what I’ve read across all devices (Feeder does allow a sync to be set up but I personally don’t use it). For some feeds that doesn’t matter for me personally, like with my news feeds I usually scroll through and read what I want to then mark everything as read. For feeds like my video feeds that I usually consume most of the content that gets put out, I usually just consume them on whatever device, and then mark the stuff I watched as read on my phone which I use as the reader to keep track of what I’ve watched and what I haven't.

Additionally, you can also read feeds in readers like Feedly (not to be confused with the Feeder app, which is unrelated). Feedly is a service, similar to the discontinued Google reader, that you can add your feeds to and then consume them in their app or on their website, keeping track of what you’ve watched and what you haven't. It cuts back on the privacy aspect a bit, since it’s now Feedly trying to capture data and sell ads to you, but it’s still really convenient to keep track of what you want to watch, read, or listen to in one place without algorithms and the like. Services like that are also a little more user friendly, for example, you often don’t even need to get the feed link and can instead just search for it and subscribe from within the site.

Last, there are also some self hosted feed media servers. Using something like FreshRSS you would install it to a home server or a VPS and then it would pull all the data from your feeds and keep track of what you’ve watched across different devices while still allowing you to control all your data since it’s on your device as apposed to being provided by a company. It’s a little bit drastic in my opinion though, given you need a home server or VPS, so it’s probably only useful for a small percentage of people consuming content.

Well, concludes my intro into feeds. I started working in content about feeds since I was working on updating my website and had to manually make a feed from scratch, so while they’re on my mind I’ll probably write about how to subscribe to things with feeds that don’t appear to support them (while avoiding those freemium “create a feed” websites), how to create one from scratch to allow people to follow your content that you totally control, and why I think content creators could benefit from creating their own feeds. Stay tuned for those if you are interested.