Every so often, I'll make fun of the "RSS is dead" crowd. It's not that hard to do:
- RSS might not be a mainstream term, but much of what we consume on social sites is still powered by RSS-like feeds.
- Newsreaders, fed by RSS feeds, remain an indispensable way to consume content.
Though newsreaders are a niche audience, that audience didn't go away when Google Reader died and social networks continued their ascent.
That niche turned out to be big enough to support nifty products like the paid versions of Feedly and Newsblur (my fave). And while that niche audience includes lots of nerdoratti - including yours truly - I count myself amongst plenty of RSS-loving journalists and curators.
RSS powers a curation workflow
Why? Because, properly configured and maintained, newsreaders still provide an unsurpassed level of content personalization. The myth that social networks are a meritocracy that reliably surfaces the best content is just that - a myth. A well-configured newsreader is a wonderful tonic to the questionable "wisdom" of the social crowd, now infiltrated by marketers, brands, and paid content promotions.
Curators like me love RSS because you can track feeds and share them to your subscribers. I've described my workflow before, but if you take my public enterprise news curation as the example, it flows like this:
- Select the best enterprise content and breaking stories within Newsblur (via RSS feeds).
- Push that content out to my bookmarking services (Pinboard and Diigo).
- The RSS from those newsreaders goes into dlvr.it, which then distributes those picks, and my commentary, to my jonerpnewsfeed outposts, including Twitter, daily email subscription, etc.
Of course, there are variations to this. I have bookmarklets to post directly to Pinboard and Diigo, which allows me to bypass Newsblur if I discover an article that isn't in one of my RSS feeds.
I also I read plenty of content I want to save or research - content that doesn't qualify for my public jonerpnewsfeed. That content might go from Newsblur to my personal tagging collections on Pocket or Instapaper. Yes, perfecting these systems does take time, but it's really about something simple: being more systematic about how I curate, and sharing the best stuff publicly as I go. I couldn't do that nearly as well without RSS.
A welcome RSS development - RSS.app
Alas, there hasn't been much interesting news to come out of the RSS market lately. But that's changed. First, for diginomica readers, on our (relatively) new Drupal platform (we used to run on Wordpress), there are plenty of ways to consume topical content via RSS (read on). But I'm also excited about a paid service I discovered called RSS.app.
We've learned a bitter lesson about beloved old school Internet services: we're better off paying for them. Yahoo Groups is shutting down because a big conglomerate can't bother themselves to find a business case, despite a subset of still-rabid users. No problem - bring on Groups.io, a free-or-paid groups service with a paid Yahoo Groups conversion process (I'm moving my longstanding print on demand publishing group to Groups.io right now).
When you sign up for a curation service run by a small company or even an individual, it's far better to pay for it. That makes the service sustainable, with less chances of a crash and burn. I find that many of these niche service providers don't want to be acquired in some cynical, cash grab way. They like building sustainable "lifestyle" businesses that serve passionate niches. That seems to be the case, for example, with Pinboard, one of the bookmarking services that powers my jonerpnewsfeed.
This problem has plagued the RSS space for years now - especially when it comes to obtaining feeds from Facebook and Twitter. I've lost track of the number of free Twitter-to-RSS services I've used over the years, diligently setting them up in my Newsblur reader, only to have them fail (and yes, I gave up on pulling RSS feeds from LinkedIn a long time ago; RSS from LinkedIn is a lost cause). As Facebook and Twitter limited or changed their APIs, the free RSS services bailed out, or became insanely difficult to use unless you were a developer.
Enter RSS.app. This paid service with several tiers, run by a gentleman named Max Shvets, has restored my Twitter RSS feeds to their former glory. I can now consume these feeds again within Newsblur, setting them up within minutes. What do I use these feeds for?
- One RSS that tracks mentions of diginomica, allowing me to jump in on conversations sooner and track them over time.
- Another feed monitors a couple of enterprise keywords I am interested in.
- I monitor the Twitter feeds of several Twitter accounts I am tracking closely, including my local town for event info. Any Twitter account where I don't want to miss a Tweet, I track in my reader.
- Via RSS.app, I have feeds for the "likes" (favorites) of two of my Twitter accounts, which is invaluable as I retrace my steps for my weekly Enterprise Hits and Misses, particularly my "whiffs" collection.
But you can configure more than Twitter RSS with RSS.app. You can do Facebook pages as well, without laborious searching for the Facebook page ID to set it up. I have a few local Facebook pages I track via RSS in my reader, including my local fire department and the local community television I serve on the board of (you can track any public Facebook group or page via RSS.app). RSS.app also lets you build RSS feeds for a range of other services I have yet to test, from Instagram to YouTube to Google News.
When I say "niche," I mean audiences that don't interest the Verizons of this world when they make Yahoo Groups walk the plank. But RSS.app certainly has interest - apparently enough to sustain it commercially. As of this writing, the RSS.app home page indicates 1,313 new users this week.
Consuming diginomica via RSS
I also consume and share diginomica content via RSS. But it turns out there are more ways to do this than I realized.
Yes, there are the two main feeds:
There are also the author feeds, which you nab from the author pages, directly underneath the bios. Those follow this format: https://diginomica.com/author/
Some readers don't want to drink from the entire diginomica firehose. RSS by category is also available. Example: click on a category below this post, such as user experience, and you can easily hack the feed, using this type of structure: https://diginomica.com/category/retail/e-commerce/feed. The /feed is all you need to add. My weekly hits/misses would be: https://diginomica.com/category/hits-misses/feed.
The key with the category feeds is to pull whatever comes up in your browser. So, if you click on "user experience" below, you'll go to this URL: https://diginomica.com/category/ux-application-design/user-experience.
Now, just add /feed to the end of it, and you have a newsreader-ready RSS feed: https://diginomica.com/category/ux-application-design/user-experience/feed.
As you can see, /feed as the suffix does the trick here. Some CMS-savvy folks out there probably know there are keyword tags in a site structure like this, along with topic categories. However, we don't make much use of tags on diginomica currently, outside of large scale events like the upcoming Dreamforce show (and we don't currently publish any tags in a tag cloud, etc).
However, if you want to get super creative, you can experiment with diginomica tags in this structure: https://diginomica.com/tag/
RSS lives, baby
RSS is not for everyone. But I'd argue we should all become more intentional curators and taggers of content that matters. That raises the signal, reduces the noise, and saves a ton of time in the long run when you are forced to search for pieces you wished you'd bookmarked or saved.
But for those who are RSS addicts and accept this terminal condition, it's encouraging to see platforms like Drupal continue to offer deep RSS support. And it's great to see paid services like RSS.app crop up to round out, and stabilize, the services curators need to do their jobs better.
This article is part of my semi-occasional diginomica series on productivity, curation, and beating the noise.