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Really Simple Syndication


As part of an effort to stop relying on a couple big platforms for Everything I do on the web, I’ve been returning to some tools from the era Before.

Back around 2006, I most stuff I read was pushed to me from a huge variety of sites and aggregated together in an RSS client. I had built up a list of sites tailored just for me: news, political pieces, all of my friends’ blogs, comics, WoW news, patch notes from vendors, and so on.

At first I used a desktop client for OS X. That was good, but then I started having more computers, so I went to Google Reader instead. It was a free SaaS service from google, so everything would always be in sync.

Reader may have been the single best piece of software ever created: it did exactly what it needed to do, and nothing more. No frills, no nonsense. It was like they measured exactly what I needed twice before cutting out a plank that fit exactly.

My carefully-curated list of sites served me well, up until Google pulled the plug on Reader. I think I switched to Old Reader and eventually stopped using RSS entirely because that product wasn’t very reliable.

That’s when I transitioned to heavily using Reddit (and later Twitter) for everything. Reddit filled the same niche, but also had Slashdot-style discussions.

But: I started rebuilding on Feedly about two years ago, and consequently my need for Reddit has cratered.

On the Technology

RSS itself is actually not that popular — when we talk about it, we’re probably talking about Atom instead. It’s very similar, but the Atom spec was made with the benefit of RSS’ shortcomings being known.

The most notable thing I can say about Atom is that it lets you specify content types for posts. RSS assumes HTML and readers will display content as HTML. That’s a bad day if you wanted to put Markdown in because all the newlines will be disrespected and the post will look like shit.


You might not realize how many websites have RSS/Atom feeds available. I frequently find sites without the RSS icon anywhere, but still have an RSS feed linked in their <head>.

I guess people prioritize the social media icons and might not even know what the ol’ feed icon is supposed to mean. But the CMS or forum or whatever software remembers how important RSS is, and it’s just There.

But the feeds are there, if you know where to look. Tumblr even has feeds for blogs, so I can receive updates from the YDF dev blog without having an account.