Marc on 2021-02-03
I firmly believe the Internet, and what it stood for, peaked with RSS.
RSS, or Really-Simple-Syndication, is (or was depending on your viewpoint) a means of allowing basically anything online to be collated into a single feed. You would visit the websites you loved, add their RSS feed to your preferred reader, and from then on be instantly notified of any new content, it was as simple as that. RSS primarily had its heyday during the Web 2.0 era (circa 1999-2010) when the freedom to do whatever you wanted with the information present on the Web was really the driving force behind a lot of new features and systems. This was of course before Social Media had taken off in the way we know it today and most of these concepts were siloed off into their own locked-down social-feeds.
Once Social-Media took its hold on the Web if there was something/someone you wanted to follow online you just added them to your Twitter feed or subscribed on YouTube; a fine idea until you decide you don't like the layout of the site in question or an algorithm decides you don't need to see the work of those you care about as often as you want (aka the curated timeline). I've already spoken before about my general disinterest with Social Media but it wasn't until somewhat recently that I decided to really start looking for alternatives - searching for a better way to interact with the Internet. I found my answer in RSS. I enjoyed the freedom to see sources as I wanted, the flexibility to move to a new reader if I wanted, the complete lack of advertising. It was hard to not fall in love with the service.
However it wasn't until I began working from home and everything in my life moved online that I really began to notice how beneficial RSS could be with relation to Digital Wellbeing. By selecting only the sites, blogs, creators etc. that I had a serious interest in, I could effectively remove the negative effects of social media and excessive online usage from my life. It was easier to get involved in serious Deep Work as I had no social feeds to endlessly scroll through. It was easier to stay informed as I could only see the latest items rather than being given an algorithmic infinite feed of supposedly “breaking news.” I could open my reader maybe twice a day, skim through the latest items and continue on with my work, a process that could be over and done with in under 5 minutes - a far cry from opening Twitter and suddenly 2 hours have passed…
Another use-case I was surprised to develop was managing collaborative projects. An issue I've heard repeatedly from those working from home is that of being deafened by the ever-present, ever-ringing notification-bell as countless chat and collaboration apps incessantly vie for your attention with new questions, comments, and discussions that may-or-may-not need your already splintered focus. For me, RSS solved that issue. Instead of checking-in every 10 minutes to see if there's any new project developments, or sending chaser messages asking if a colleague finished up on that feature - I can just track everything with RSS. If anything comes up that I need to know about, RSS will be there to present it to me.
As I said during the introduction of this post, RSS may appear to some to have fallen by the wayside as content is increasingly siloed into only being available on a specific platform. However a not insignificant number of sites still make the service readily available, for instance:
Reddit still offers RSS support by appending
/.rssto the end of a given URL.
GitHub allows you to add an activity feed of your followed accounts/organisations by clicking the feed icon at the bottom of your account page.
YouTube offers RSS support by adding a channel ID (The series of numbers and characters present in the URL of a channel homepage) to the following URL:
Having only the content I want to see only be shown when I want to see it with the freedom to jump between readers as I please, all with no ads? For me, no other service comes close to the flexibility, robustness, and overall ease-of-use that RSS offers.
Its heyday may be over but RSS is still very much alive with services like Feedly and Newsboat (recommended) along with a host of mobile apps on either platform letting you experience the web at what I consider to be its best. If you feel like trying out RSS for yourself, why not get started by adding this blog to your reader?