This Week I Discovered: RSS

This is actually a rediscovery. A colleague was telling me about Feedly back in 2013 when I was scrambling around in my first job. I had narrower interests that were sufficiently sated with and other video-heavy publications. Times have changed! My interests are broader. Commutes (often without Internet access) are the best times to peruse news. I want to give priority to news targeted at my interests rather than news discovery. And given the additional web presence you have when you start a blog, I’m keener to see what others are up to as well =]

RSS is perfect for all of this. It’s a web syndication format that the vast majority of content publishers and blogs support. They provide a URL that gives access to a feed of their content in a client of your choice.

Most clients these days are smart enough to detect the content format. For example, Feedly doubles as a podcast player. CLI RSS readers like Newsboat and Canto facilitate opening an article in a browser for content that contains more than plain text. Most are very flexible, supporting things like keyword filters and changing the order feeds are displayed.

The key thing is that you control the content you want to see. I went through the phase of using social media for updates. The feeds are endless. The content is tailored to you based on some initial preferences you supply and then the algorithm takes over. Most articles will at least contain something interesting. In a few, you may learn something of value. But it’s not efficient.

I moved on Hacker News next, which I know many people find perfectly sufficient, but it’s also an endless feed. I found myself sifting down into the triple digits on some commutes trying to find something to distract me. It made me realise that I was spending as much time, if not more, searching for content rather than learning from it.

Now I have a just a few feeds set up in Feedly. I can fine tune it to sources that I find interesting. That’s an ongoing process and one that is far from being optimal, but it means that when I check Feedly there’s a much higher chance I’ll learn rather than sift. I’ve chosen feeds that post a maximum of a few times per day so that I can look forward to a steady stream of new content every morning without getting overwhelmed. This may become too frequent as I discover more feeds, and I’ll readjust then if necessary. Having that level of control is a real asset. Once I’ve read through everything, I feel confident that I’ve “caught up”. I can then focus on other things, like creating content myself!

It’s not a perfect setup. There are topics out there that could be my next passion but are completely off my radar, hidden on the other side of the Internet. Locating such topics is hard, but prove incredibly fruitful when you do! For that reason, I still check Hacker News occasionally, but limit myself to the top stories. There’s feeds specifically tailored for top Hacker News stories that could prove to be a great compromise.

I’m still on the hunt for feeds. Some that have proved worthwhile subscriptions in the last week are the Trello blog, various Gamasutra blogs, and, of course, This Week in Rust! Here’s to discovering what else is out there.