The Internet revolutionized news. In some ways, this has been very positive. Publishing has been democratized. Rather than newspapers and magazines acting as gatekeepers, countless websites and blogs provide insight into all kinds of subjects – and users have immediate access to a wider range of information than ever before.
However, this can also feel like a deluge, bombarding you on a daily basis. It’s hard to keep track of things you love – a chore to constantly and consistently keep an eye on a handful of favorite websites. News apps and social media feeds attempt to help, but too often add to the noise, non-chronological feeds and algorithms serving up a semi-random soup of content, rather than focussing squarely on what you want to read.
It’s therefore a good idea to dip into a technology that’s fallen out of favor, and yet is fast, friendly, and efficient: RSS.
Understanding RSS Feeds
Depending on who you ask, RSS stands for Rich Site Summary and/or Really Simple Syndication. That doesn’t really matter; what does is how RSS can be beneficial. In short, it enables you to subscribe to website feeds. This means if there’s a blog (such as this one) you want to keep track of, you can add it to your RSS subscriptions. New headlines will load in whenever you access your account.
Typically, RSS clients initially download the most recent ten articles from any feed you subscribe to and will keep unread headlines for 30 days. This should ensure you don’t miss an important headline.
Although something of an arcane technology in and of itself, getting started with RSS is very simple. You sign up to an RSS service, subscribe to some sites, and then use compatible apps (or websites) to peruse your feeds and read articles.
Get started with Feedly
Plenty of RSS clients and services exist, but Feedly is a good place to start. It offers three tiers: Basic, Pro, and Teams. Basic is free, but generously allows you to subscribe to as many as 100 sources, and to organize them into up to three feeds. Pro ($7 per month or $65 per year) removes such limitations and offers integration options with other services; Teams ($18 per user per month) enables shared feeds, boards, notes, and highlights. For most people, Basic is enough to begin with.
From a security standpoint, it’s always best to sign up using email (Continue with Feedly) rather than a social network login. Thereafter, use the search field (browser) or Discover tab (compass icon on mobile) to find sources. Click/tap Follow to subscribe to that source. The first time you do this, you’ll be asked to create a new feed. I’d suggest placing all subscriptions under a generic ‘All’, unless you’re especially passionate about having articles in topic-specific feeds.
Fine-tune your reading RSS experience
What you see in Feedly will vary by source. In some cases – including this blog – you’ll get synopses. You’ll then need to click/tap a button to open the full article in a web browser. However, many sources offer ‘full feeds’, which allow you to read entire articles within Feedly.
As you become familiar with RSS, experiment with Feedly’s options, and adjust your viewing experience to suit your personal preferences. Feeds can be switched between image-based or text-only views. The order of feeds can be changed between chronological, oldest first, and surfacing popular items. Although the last of those settings recalls a problem mentioned earlier with algorithmic and social feeds (the ‘randomness’ of provided content), that’s less of a problem in an RSS client like Feedly, because you can at any point drill down into a single source.
Use additional devices, services and apps for RSS
Finally, be mindful that your Feedly account is synced across any platform and app you use to sign in. This means you can switch between browser, tablet, and smartphone, and all of your feeds will be up to date. It’s also possible to use Feedly as an ‘engine’ to drive third-party RSS clients like Reeder should you like the idea of RSS, but not the reading experience within Feedly itself.
Also, remember Feedly content does not stick around forever. Headlines remain for 30 days (so check in regularly), and any article you open will disappear from your feed once it’s read, unless marked as unread before you move on.
If you want permanence for a particularly interesting piece, or find something interesting but lack the time to delve into it right now, stash it on a Feedly board by marking it as a favorite (star icon). Alternatively, utilize a read-later service – which is a subject I’ll cover in an upcoming post on this blog.
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