What RSS Means to Me

March 18, 2013

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With the recent announcement that Google is shutting down Reader, there’s been a lot of talk about RSS: Is it just a geek-only thing? Isn’t Twitter good enough? Why don’t you read “real” journalists instead of blogs?

RSS is a huge part of my online life - every time I fire up Reeder and see stories, I get very happy. The way I use RSS (which I believe is the best way to use it) can’t be replaced by anything else that I’m aware of.

So, why do I think RSS is so great?

First, I don’t use RSS readers to “discover” anything - new blogs, what people are reading, etc. That’s what Twitter is for. When Google added that feature to Reader, it became really annoying to clear all that crap out.

Instead, I view my RSS feeds as a curated, frequently updated, bookshelf just for me. I have a list of carefully selected websites whose posts I want to read all of, on a daily (or more) basis. These websites conform to the type of reading I like - fewer, higher quality posts, as opposed to link-bait/page-view whores like Mashable or Engadget.

I’m not saying sites like Cinematical or Joystiq are worthless - there are some great posts on there, but Twitter is sufficient to alert me to them, and I’m rarely sad if I miss the few good posts out of the massive cruft on those sites (I mean, do I really care about how many megapixels are on Sony’s latest point-and-shoot, and do I really need a picture of the catering tray at the Arrested Development shoots?).

It’s a shame how these sites are run, because they do employ connected journalists who get real scoops and write great stories. But, their business models require a massive number of posts per day and so I just can’t trim the wheat from the chaff, so I don’t visit. Not sure if I’m alone in this.

So, what do I read? Here’s what’s in my RSS feeds. These are the sites I read daily and, because this is the 21st century, I don’t want to navigate to them one by one - I want software delivering them to me, and that’s what RSS, and a great client, do.

Comics

  • Dilbert - duh
  • Eye on Springfield - Screencaps from the Simpsons. Always brings a smile.
  • Joy of Tech - Nerdy, Apple-related humor
  • xkcd - double duh
  • Thrillbent/Insufferable - Mark Waid is a genius.

Tech

  • Coding Horror - classic programming blog (that, honestly, is not as good as it was).
  • Daily WTF - duh.
  • Daring Fireball - quality writing and analysis by John Gruber about Apple and related stuff. And plenty of snark.
  • Marco.org - by the creator of Instapaper and The Magazine, it’s like Daring Fireball Lite but with a bit more variety.
  • Michael Church’s blog (though I’ve skipped his recent nine treatises on workplace incompetence - he needs an editor).
  • Signal vs. Noise - 37 Signals blog isn’t as great as it used to be, but still some interesting stuff.
  • Github’s blog - Gotta keep up with one of the most amazing programmer tools ever made.
  • Giles Bowkett’s blog - insightful posts about Rails and other stuff.

Funtimes

  • Scott’s Blog of Doom - Pro Wrestling recaps and snark. Yes, I like Pro Wrestling and yes, I have a sense of humor about it.
  • Wil Wheaton’s Blog - I came for his hilarious recaps of TNG episodes, I stay for his great writing, obsessive honesty and general awesomeness.
  • Meeting Boy - daily quips from someone always stuck in a meeting.
  • Clients from Hell - daily reminder of why I don’t want to do consulting ever again.
  • Arrested Westeros - Arrested Development quotes atop Game of Thrones screencaps. Gold.
  • Liquorious - drink recipes. Yes, I make my own bitters and thus like reading cocktail recipes :)
  • Fashion It So - incredibly detailed fashion analysis of the costumes on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I do work at a fashion startup, you know!

What all of these have in common is that they don’t generate a lot of posts (Daring Fireball is probably the most prolific, and it’s usually just a few short link posts, with occasional long-form pieces). The posts on these sites are almost always very high quality - I want to read them and would regret missing them.

I can’t think of another technology besides RSS (and a great Reader client) that could more easily let me keep up with all of these websites.

What makes a good reader?

I’m currently using Reeder, which is available on iOS and Mac and it’s more or less perfect for my needs. It has a minimal, yet pleasing design, full keyboard navigation (j/k or GTFO), integration with various services (namely Instapaper) and, because it uses Google Reader as a backend, keeps me synced everywhere. It also works great offline, assuming you’ve downloaded your feeds when you were last online.

I’m hopeful that Reeder will come up with a new backend and just continue working. Otherwise, I’ll be looking for new options.

But RSS is (I hope) far from dead.