Updated: 10 Feb 2021
I found a blog post which is surprisingly similar to my thoughts on RSS feeds, but better presented and thought through. The post mentions the idea that “RSS is about capturing the long tail of blogs that don’t post frequently” 1.
This idea crystalised why I was so glad I’d started using RSS feeds again. If readers use RSS, then authors don’t need to concern themselves with attention. This removes pressure on the author to post frequently and lets them focus on quality over quantity. News feeds and ad supported platforms have fundamentally different mechanics and incentives.
With RSS I can let good quality content come to me, on its own schedule. I don’t need to remember to look for it, and the authors don’t need to remind me that they exist.
RSS is a very effective way of having good quality information come to you. Back in 2008, I used to use Google Reader to subscribe to RSS feeds. I was an aspiring photographer back then and I remember being subscribed to around 80 blogs. Each day I’d read articles from whoever had posted something new, without needing to visit their websites or remember who they are or that I’d subscribed to their blog. The authors didn’t need to optimize their output according to an opaque and changing algorithm either - they didn’t need to optimize article length, tags, post frequency, image inclusion or linked content. They could write how they wanted to, which I suspect leads to higher quality content.
A few years later Google Reader was closed down, presumably because using RSS didn’t fit with Googles advertising model. I was unaware of it at the time but I imagine it sent shockwaves through blogging communities and probably upended many businesses. I mostly stopped reading blogs.
Facebook was growing fast, Instagram felt new and exciting, and content was moving onto ‘platforms’, or into walled gardens. And as they kept on growing the average quality of the content decreased.
Twitter is like this now I think. There are some real diamonds to be found from time to time, but there’s a lot of mud too. Mostly its just mud, but the occasional diamond can have outsized benefits.
RSS isn’t like this. I choose the contents of my ‘news feed’, and each article can be much longer than a Tweet, or a caption to a photo, or a status update. It’s hard to write well and to create an interesting or useful blog post, and that makes it harder to dilute quality with entertaining distractions. I have complete control about what content I see, and I can change it whenever I want. The process is designed around me.
netNewsWire for a few weeks, but it couldn’t sync between my laptop
and phone, so I bought
Reeder 5. It’s got a few unusual design patterns, but
it works well and has all the features I want. I’ve been unsubscribing from
email newsletters and subscribing to the RSS feed instead.
It keeps my inbox quieter, and it feels good to have a ‘separation of concerns’. It makes it easier to read interesting content without being distracted.