The Case for RSS

David Sparks, on his continued usage of RSS:

The reason I’ve stuck with RSS is the way in which I work. Twitter is the social network that I participate in most and yet sometimes days go by where I don’t load the application. I like to work in focused bursts. If I’m deep into writing a book or a legal client project. I basically ignore everything else. I close my mail application, tell my phone service to take my calls, and I definitely don’t open Twitter. When I finish the job, I can then go back to the Internet. I’ll check in on Twitter, but I won’t be able to get my news from it. That only works if you go into Twitter much more frequently than I do. That’s why RSS is such a great solution for me. If a few days go by, I can open RSS and go through my carefully curated list of websites and get caught back up with the world.

I’ve been a big believer in RSS since the Google Reader days. It’s the best system I’ve found for keeping track of my favorite websites. I started out using Google Reader, switched to Shaun Inman’s Fever when Google killed their service, and eventually moved to Feedbin earlier this year.

I’ve used a handful of iOS apps for syncing with my backend RSS services — most notably Sunstroke and Reeder. Sunstroke is my favorite RSS app of all time, but was discontinued by its developer several years ago. I held on as long as I could, but eventually an iOS update caused the app to crash every time I launched it. I use Reeder now, which is great. It’s not as good as Sunstroke, but it’s closer than anything else available.

Getting back to David’s piece, he implies in the opening paragraph that the number of RSS users has been on the decline:

For several years now, the trend among geeks has been to abandon the RSS format.

I’m not sure if that’s true, but it certainly feels that way. Granted, podcasting is built upon RSS feeds and seems to be in a boom period at the moment. But the idea of subscribing to weblogs and news sites with your RSS reader seems like something that only a small number of us hardcore tech nerds are still doing. And that’s a shame because it’s such a simple and efficient way to keep up with your favorite sites.

I think Nick Heer raises a good point about the topic:

Truly, though, this isn’t a case for RSS so much as it is a case for a simple, easy-to-use way to receive updates from the websites you trust and like most. You could theoretically replace “RSS” with “JSON Feed” or “Twitter lists” — whatever works best for you. For news junkies like me, though, there will always be a case for dedicated feeds, without the interruption of non-news tweets or Facebook posts. RSS just happens to be one of the simplest implementations of that.

My favorite thing about RSS feeds is that it cuts out all the cruft. This gives David the ability to catch up quickly when he’s working on other projects for a few days and Nick the ability to read his feeds without all the distractions that come from reading his Twitter timeline or Facebook feed. If something else works for you, that’s fantastic, but I would love to see more people give RSS another chance.

Eric Schwarz recently gave it another go and seems very happy with it:

After re-evaluating my relationship with Twitter, I decided to dust off my Fever° install, fire up Reeder, and get my feeds updated. So far, I still get that can’t-miss aspect of things I enjoy, but I know that my traffic and viewing habits are only really passing through a few places—the Reeder app (or whatever RSS app I may try), my Fever° installation, and the sites producing the content. It’s a great feeling.

There’s a diverse set of clients and syncing services available, which can certainly be daunting to newcomers. But once you start subscribing to feeds and get in the habit of scanning headlines for interesting stories a few times a week, you’ll start to realize how powerful the system really is.

If you’re not sure where to start, I highly recommend Feedbin. It’s reasonably priced and very well designed. When I surveyed the options earlier this year, Feedbin looked like the best offering on the market. As for client apps, Reeder is superb. It’s available for iOS and Mac, works with a ton of RSS services, and offers plenty of customization options. As a bonus recommendation, give Feed Hawk a try. It’s an iOS app that lets you quickly subscribe to RSS feeds through the share sheet.