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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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Responses to RSS isn’t dead. Subscribing is alive.

There were a number of responses to RSS isn’t dead. Subscribing is alive. Partly due to being on Micro.blog Discover and perhaps also due to Brent Simmons linking to it (thanks Brent!).

Chris Aldrich:

I’ve been enamored of the way that SubToMe has abstracted things to create a one click button typically with a “Follow Me” or “Subscribe” tag on it.

SubToMe seems interesting. A single button that gives the user a ton of options to subscribe. For now, I’m sticking with my Subscribe page that gives a short description of what Subscribing is and where they can do it. Perhaps I’ll extend the list of services in the future.

Jeremy Cherfas:

As for tools creating better ways to surface stuff, Newsblur does allow you to train it, which to me seems more useful than using an algorithm to train me.

I don’t need an algorithm personally. I actually like the urgency having many subscriptions creates. It forces me to weed through my subscriptions from time-to-time and unload a few. But I’m glad to hear Newsblur has something they are working on for this.

Rian van der Merwe:

I really like how you structured your “Subscribe” page in a way that non-tech people would understand. I went with “Follow” as the title, since that’s a word that has become synonymous with getting updates. What are your thoughts on Follow vs. Subscribe?

Follow is likely the more modern and widely popular verb. I think each network has had to make this choice on its own to help users infer what type of place they signed up for. Facebook has “friend”, Twitter “follow”, LinkedIn “connect”. Each of these verbs have meaning. Follow and Subscribe are both impersonal enough to fit with blogs but each have their own feeling behind them. Subscribing, to me, feels like I’m reading a publication (whether it be by 1 person or many). Following feels more like I’m one wrung down on a ladder. I could be alone in this feeling though.

As an aside: I’m so happy that blogging is being talked and written about so much over the last few months. 2019 already feels like a boon for one of my favorite things.


RSS is not dead. Subscribing is alive.

Sinclair Target, writing for Motherboard:

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was.

This isn’t the first nor the last article to cover the creation of the RSS standard, its rise to relative popularity with Google Reader, and its subsequent fall from popularity.

But the big point that many of these articles dismiss lightly or directly omit is that RSS is still used as the underpinnings of so many widely popular services today. Apple News, Google News, Flipboard (each with likely tens of millions of users or more) and many others use RSS it is just that people do not know it.

We should likely stop talking about RSS. We need to simply start calling RSS “Subscribing”. “Subscribe to my blog” is the only thing we need to say.

Also, tools like Inoreader, Feedly, etc. should create far better ways to surface content for readers from their active subscriptions. When people subscribe to more than just a few sites it quickly can be overwhelming to people that don’t like to wake up to “inboxes” with 300 unread count. People just abandon those. It is why Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all use algorithms to select which content people should see when they open the app. I’m weird. I want to see everything in reverse chronological order. But “most people” want to see something interesting for the few moments they devote to reading their subscriptions.

RSS will never be as popular as Facebook. Let’s all get over it. But please do subscribe to my site. 🙂

David Nield: “RSS still beats Facebook and Twitter”

David Nield on Gizmodo:

Whether you’ve never heard of it before or you’ve abandoned it for pastures new, here’s why you should be using RSS for your news instead of social media.

I’ve used RSS since it was released and feed readers began to appear and I don’t see a future of the web without RSS. So if you aren’t using it you’re missing an enormous amount of value that the web provides.

/via Dave Winer via Feedly via RSS.

Following Twitter accounts via RSS

I haven’t missed Twitter that much since deleting my account. The first week or two I missed Moments – but once that subsided I realized that Moments are generally a waste of time. Realtime reporting of most newsworthy events result in ill-informed, unsubstantiated tweets. I’m at a point now where I’d much prefer to get the real story after-the-fact rather than realtime.

There are instances where realtime reporting can be incredibly useful, such as when there is a fire, a traffic accident, or a natural disaster happening. Those tweets can save lives. But, in general, I’m perfectly OK with reading up on the news once or twice daily to see what really happened.

I do miss certain Twitter accounts. Especially those that do not have a blog or web site counterpart that I can follow along through another medium. And since Twitter is still web and developer hostile (meaning their API is far too limited and they don’t support open web distribution technologies like RSS) I’ve missed out on a lot of great content from those Twitter accounts.

So today I went searching around for some RSS feed generators that would use what little access to Twitter they have (presumably the limited API or HTML scraping or both) to create an RSS feed from accounts or hashtags or lists. And there are a number of services out there, some of which you have to pay for, others that toss in some ads, or others that are severely limited.

Then I found Publicate. I’m using Publicate’s Twitter RSS Feed Generator to create a few feeds based on some Twitter accounts I miss the most. You simply type in the URL you want to create a feed from, give them your email address*, and they provide a feed URL. So far it seems to be working. I’ve created a new collection in Feedly to store these feeds. Hopefully I’ll get the tweets I wanted to see most and I won’t have to deal with the drivel and hate I’ve seen on Twitter over the last 18 months. Or even Twitter itself!

* I certainly don’t mind my email address being a form of payment to a company. So I gave it to them. But, if you’re a bit of a hacker it is quite easy to dismiss the overlay, read the page’s source, and grab the feed URL without giving Publicate your email address. I want this tool to stick around so if my email address helps them to keep it up-and-running so be it.

rss.js

With all of the JSON Feed hubbub recently I thought it was interesting to read Dave Winer’s post re: how he had created a JSON spec based on RSS in 2012 called rss.js:

I wanted to see if there was interest among developers for a JSON version of RSS. I put up a website, with comments, and added a JSON feed to my blog (technically it was JSONP). Wired even asked me to write a piece about it.

More time needs to pass to see if JSON Feed has longer legs than rss.js. But my guess is that Winer, as usual, was very early with this idea and that developers weren’t nearly as fed up with XML then as they are today. In fact, I’d bet there are JavaScript developers today that have never had to parse an XML feed of any sort (RSS or otherwise) because they’ve only needed to deal with JSON.

Titleless posts

Dave Winer re: NetNewsWire adding support for titleless items in a RSS or JSON Feed:

I got an email from NetNewsWire user Frank Leahy, requesting that I add titles to my feed for items that don’t have titles.

This is an issue that is going to continue to grow. With services like Micro.blog and post formats like my status updates… these are tweet-like posts that do not have titles. Just like SMS messages that are emails without a subject line. We’re going to see this more and more. Rather than apps or services asking publishers to add titles, the apps and services should just get ahead of the curve on this and add support for titleless posts.

John Gruber on JSON Feed

John Gruber:

The DF RSS feed isn’t going anywhere, so if you’re already subscribed to it, there’s no need to switch. But JSON Feed’s spec makes it possible for me to specify both a url that points to the post on Daring Fireball (i.e. the permalink) and an external_url that points to the article I’m linking to. The way I’ve dealt with that in the RSS (technically Atom, but that’s sort of beside the point) is a bit of a hack that’s caused problems with numerous feed readers over the years.

John has linked to a slew of things this week re: JSON Feed so run over to Daring Fireball (increase the font size a few bumps) and catch up.

He mentions an interesting advantage of JSON Feed’s spec that I hadn’t thought of. DF Style Links, which are Daring Fireball’s way of linking to things wherein the headline is the link to the story and somewhere in the body is the link to Daring Fireball’s permalink, throws many feed readers for a loop. As I’ve switched feed readers over the years I’ve had to practically beg the developers to make small tweaks for Daring Fireball’s feed. In the beginning (early 2000s) that was harder than now as John’s blog is massively popular. Looks like JSON Feed makes it a bit easier.

JSON Feed

Manton Reece and Brent Simmons have created a new specification for creating feeds using JSON. They write:

We — Manton Reece and Brent Simmons — have noticed that JSON has become the developers’ choice for APIs, and that developers will often go out of their way to avoid XML. JSON is simpler to read and write, and it’s less prone to bugs.

JSON Feed has been implemented on a few platforms already and it was talked about a lot since its debut. I’m glad someone has created a spec around this so that the developers that would like to use this can now rally behind a unified specification. However, JSON Feed won’t be replacing RSS any time very soon.

RSS is something you could call a “good enough” solution. It is already in place, tons of stuff supports it, and works fine. And while the developers of all of the apps and services that use RSS could update their software to create and parse JSON Feed it is doubtful they will very quickly as the benefits aren’t all that great. The advantage of JSON Feed mostly comes when creating new services not replacing old ones.

I don’t think Manton and Brent believe JSON Feed will replace RSS. I don’t think that is why they created the spec. I believe they feel this is a good alternative for the developers that would like to use it and that they wrote the spec out of a need that they had. Which is good.

I’ve discussed the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON in the past. Me, in June 2015 on one of the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON:

RSS is a fairly bloated specification. It is a bit verbose and the file sizes for even a small blog can get relatively large quickly. JSON is, by its very nature, a bit more succinct. This would result in faster load times, easier caching, etc.

So while there are definite benefits, it is doubtful that RSS is going anywhere for a long time. There have been a few attempts to replace RSS with something that is smaller and easier to parse over the years and they simply didn’t catch on. This weekend Dave Winer (the inventor of RSS) chimed in on JSON Feed and he has a similar reaction to it as I have had; it is great that the specification exists but it will not be replacing RSS for news or blogs any time soon.

I’ve added a JSON feed to this blog because Manton created the WordPress plugin already.

Side note: How did I not see this one coming?

 

David Mead: “Why is Feedly so hard to use?”

David Mead writes about Feedly:

There seems no way to see all your feeds in one place, and mange them accordingly. Everything has to be a “collection”. Those only show a few on the screen at any one time. So you have to keep expanding and collapsing boxes to make simple changes. It got to the point where I deleted everything (after an OPML export) and started fresh, but that hasn’t been much easier.

Feedly has gotten worse (for me), not better, since I began paying for it a few years ago. I believe the root cause of Feedly getting worse (again, for me) is due to their pushing out the typical RSS nomenclature I prefer for one that is easier to market to the world at large. Ditching subscriptions for follows and hiding RSS feeds behind “collections”, etc. These words are likely easier to understand for people that have never heard of RSS and, in turn, gives Feedly a larger market to grown into. But, that has made Feedly worse for those of us that perfectly well understand what RSS is and like it just the way it is.

For instance, try to find a feed’s URL so that you can edit it in Feedly’s interface. You’ll go mad.

I’m very happy to support a product I use daily and so I continue to pay for it until I find something else. I also report problems to their team over Twitter every time I encounter them (which has been several times). Some of them they’ve addressed, others they’ve said are not an issue.

A good example of something that Feedly chooses to do but that which I’d rather it not is their use of Open Graph tags to pull in an image preview for a link. For feeds like Daring FireballAdactio, or Waxy Links this is maddening. Because they both use DF style links (or, Linklog) they point to external web sites and Feedly loads those preview images. And you cannot turn this off. I’ve reported it more than 4 times but Feedly seems to think this behavior is what they want for their users and so I doubt I’ll see this changed. That is, of course, their prerogative but it is enough to force me to begin looking elsewhere.

If anyone knows of a good cross-platform alternative I’d be happy to start shopping. Perhaps David would too.

E12: The Mac, RSS feeds, Shopping, and Stranger Things

We hit our stride in this bit. Danny and I have a Sunday-evening chat about how Apple could move away from the Mac and survive, RSS feed habits, shopping for clothes (naturally) and Stranger Things.

Site Danny references is Woodpile Report.

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