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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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.

Download MP3

Is Medium embracing the open web?

Julien Genestoux, founder of Superfeedr, on his company’s blog regarding his company being acquired by Medium and how Medium is supporting open protocols already:

At Superfeedr, we’ve promoted the open web by embracing open formats and protocols, such as RSS, Atom, XMPP and PubSubHubbub. Over the years, we’ve also learned that these protocols are only as powerful as the people who promote them. As we want the open web to remain strong, we were delighted to find that the folks at Medium share the same values. And we think that Superfeedr’s acquisition is a powerful indicator of Medium’s support for open protocols. As an example of this, my first commit at Medium was to enable full content RSS feeds both for publications and users (available in your settings). Medium already lets you add your own domain name, import and export all of your posts, point to a canonical URL if you cross-posted, supports DNT… and we’ve started working on more!

Full content RSS feeds is a great step in the right direction. As were Medium’s API, use of your own domain name, and canonical URLs. Perhaps Medium will embrace the open web in a way it didn’t appear they would before? I’d be very happy to see that.

I agree with Seth, read more blogs

Seth Godin, on his blog:

Other than writing a daily blog (a practice that’s free, and priceless), reading more blogs is one of the best ways to become smarter, more effective and more engaged in what’s going on. The last great online bargain.

I obviously agree with Seth. Everyone should blog. And should read blogs.

Also, this bit from Seth:

For those of you that have been engaging with this blog for months or years, please share this post with ten friends you care about. We don’t have to sit idly by while powerful choke points push us toward ad-filled noisy media.

Done. Looks like I needed to touch up my teach a friend RSS post from 2011 as it mentions services that no longer exist. So I did that Seth. Like Seth, I too use Feedly. If you want to subscribe to this blog on Feedly you can do so here.

Yes, it is more work to subscribe than to follow, but that is OK with me

Fred Wilson, in A Founder’s Notebook, describing how “hard” it is to subscribe to a blog that isn’t on Tumblr but is on the open internet.

My only complaint is that its not on Tumblr, where it would be an instant and easy follow. It takes more work to follow a blog when its on the open Internet (when you don’t use RSS. i don’t).

Sigh. He’s right, of course, but … sigh.

In the heyday of Google Reader it was the exact same amount of work to subscribe to a blog’s RSS feed as it is to follow a Tumblog on Tumblr. Just one click. But now, with the RSS market so fragmented and waning it has, indeed, become more work to subscribe to blogs on the open Internet than it is to follow on Tumblr or Twitter.

There are initiatives in motion to help with this, but, like so many other great things on the web (see: microformats), they may simply never catch on at scale.

For those interested in how I subscribe to blogs both on the open Internet and elsewhere; I’m currently using Vienna on Mac as my feed reader. I do not read feeds on my iPad (though I used to) or my iPhone. I only read on Mac and filter things into Unmark to read/watch/buy/listen later. For me to subscribe to a blog is pretty painless; copy the URL of the blog, open Vienna, click Subscribe. (I don’t even need to paste.) So it is three steps rather than the one step that Fred needs to take on Tumblr.

I’ll take that hit for blogs I love to be on the open internet any day.

Teach a friend about RSS

For the last few years I’ve been hearing chatter that RSS “is dead”, yet, I still continue to use it every single day. So, I thought – lets turn this on its head. Lets bring RSS “back” by teaching at least one friend how to use it.

Why?

The vast majority of people that surf the Internet on a daily basis are going to but a few sites. They wake up in the morning, check Facebook, Twitter, CNN, and perhaps one or two other sites – turn on the TV, check those sites again, do some household chores, check those sites again, and so on. Its absurd. They are so silo-ed they don’t even realize what they’re missing.

There are hundreds of millions of websites. However, if these same people were to check say, a few hundred websites per day, they’d be able to get little else done because it would take too long. Who wants to visit a few hundred URLs on a daily basis just to see what’s new?

Well, that is where we geeks who know about RSS come in and help out. We teach them RSS to save them time and to expand their web horizon.

How?

How do you use RSS? First, you get a Google Reader (update June 2016: use Feedly as Google Reader is gone now) account or the app of your choice for your platform be it PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc. All of these platforms have fairly good RSS readers and if you’re a geek you already know about them. Feedly is available on the web for your PC or Mac and via both Android and iOS applications.

Once you have a Feedly account the service makes it easy to subscribe to your favorite sites. For instance, you can click “Add” and type in cdevroe.com to add my site. Or, you can search for topics like kayaking or photography.

So, pass this on. Find someone that you think could benefit from using RSS on a daily basis – sit down with them and teach them the ropes. RSS isn’t dead, we just don’t talk about it enough anymore.

Oh, and you can feel free to subscribe them to my blog’s feed or The Watercolor Gallery’s feed and I’d be fine with that. 🙂