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.
Colin, I saw this article last week and I agree with your thoughts. Your analysis and the concept of the fear of missing out is a strong one. It’s even more paralyizing when one is following feeds with longer and potentially denser articles instead of short status updates or even bookmarks.
RSS definitely needs a UI makeover. 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. It looks a whole lot more like the follow buttons on most social services, but this one can recommend a feed reader or provide a list of potential readers to add the subscription to. Cutting out several layers and putting the subscription into something where it can be immediately read certainly cuts through a lot of the UI problems generally presented to the average person. It would be nice to see more sites support this sort of functionality rather than needing the crufty pages full of XML and pages describing what RSS is, how it works, and how to add a particular site to a reader.
We’ve come a long way, but we still have a way to to continue on.
It is. One of my side projects at the moment is building an RSS feed reader that has social capabilities. So you can add friends, curate feed lists, and see what other people in your network are reading and recommending.
I’ve now removed the titles in the RSS feed from posts in the micro category using the_title_rss. So I’ve reenabled adding of titles through wp_insert_post_data. If this works this post will have a title in my dashboard, but all get through to micro.blog
This seems like a cool potential way of doing all sorts of things in the IndieWeb space for WordPress. I’m curious what it looks like from other perspectives. I’ll have to think this through a bit…
In the end though, it still feels too much like individuals trying to solve problems that should be better handled by feed readers and the platforms.
Earlier this week, Taylor Lorenz, staff writer for The Atlantic on Internet culture, posted this on Twitter:
Is there any good way to follow writers on a bunch of diff websites, so anytime they post a story I see a link or something in a single feed?
This resulted in a series of over 40 replies with...
Interesting that it looks like she subsequently deleted the original post….
I cancelled my subscription to Foreign Policy yesterday afternoon, spurred by an email from FP about an upcoming auto-renewal charge. The quality of the print journal has been in decline for several years, no doubt due, at least in part, to structural challenges the publishing industry faces. I am sympathetic to that; I know firsthand (though at much smaller scale) how hard it is to keep a print publication going in 2018, especially when otheroutletsare givingsimilar articlesawayfor free online. In that respect, I feel bad about this parting, because I believe sound, sensation-free journalism & well-informed editorial opinion matters, now as much (or more) than ever. Publications, like FP, that present issues in detailed, yet plain, language have an important place in our culture and provide valuable service to our society.
I hold much of the same opinion as William on this front. Even more similar I subscribe to Foreign Affairs’ competitor Foreign Policy which I’ve enjoyed and subscribe for the sole reason of explicitly giving them financial support. This idea of paying to support the things you love and use is an important one.
I also had some issues with their content management set up and particularly their lack of good RSS feeds as I’d prefer to read them digitally than in print. I actually ended up reaching out to them and worked a bit with their customer support team and their programmers to try to help them better support the types of RSS feeds that I’d like to see coming out of their Drupal platform. I’m hoping they get it all sorted out soon so that it benefits not just me, but the rest of their work. I see it as increasingly important for journalistic outlets to own their own websites, content, and at least part of their distribution on the web going forward. I’m happy that services like this are still supporting web specs like RSS until something better comes along.
It may still be a while before I can make the leap I’d love to make to using Microsub related technology to replace my daily feed reader habits. I know that several people are working diligently on a Microsub server for WordPress and there are already a handful of reader interfaces available. I’m particularly interested in the fact that I can use a reader interface integrated with Micropub so that my reactions in the reader (likes, bookmarks, replies, etc.) are posted back to my own personal website which will then send notifications (via Webmention) to the mentioned websites. Of course it’s going to take some time before I’m using it and even more time after that for the set up to become common and easy to use for others. So until then, I and others will need some tools to use right now.
Toward this end I thought I’d double down on my use of Inoreader in my daily web consumption workflows. I wanted to make it easier to use my feed reader to post all these types of posts to my website which will still handle the notifications. In some sense, instead of relying on a feed reader supporting Micropub, I’ll use other (older) methods for making the relevant posts. As I see it, there are two potential possibilities using Inoreader:
(1) using a service like IFTTT (free) or Zapier (paid) to take the post intents and send them to my WordPress site, or
(2) using the custom posting interface in Inoreader in conjunction with post editor URL schemes with the Post Kinds plugin to create the posts. Using WordPress’ built-in Post This bookmarklet schemes could also be used to make these posts, but Post Kinds plugin offers a lot more metadata and flexibility.
If This Then That (IFTTT)
Below is a brief outline of some of the IFTTT recipes I’ve used to take data from posts I interact with in Inoreader and post them to my own website.
IFTTT has an explicit like functionality with a one click like button. There is an IFTTT recipe which allows taking this datum and adding it directly as a WordPress post with lots of rich data. The “then that” portion of IFTTT using WordPress allows some reasonable functionality for porting over data.
IFTTT also has explicit favorite functionality using a one click starred article button. There is an IFTTT recipe which allows adding this directly as a WordPress post.
Since the “starred” article isn’t defined specifically in Inoreader as a “favorite”, one could alternately use it to create “read” or “bookmark” posts on their WordPress websites. I’m tempted to try this for read posts as I probably wouldn’t often use it to create favorite posts on my own website. Ultimately one at least wants an easy-to-remember 1 to 1 mapping of pieces of functionality in Inoreader to their own website, so whatever I decide I’ll likely stick to it.
While there is no specific functionality for creating bookmarks in Inoreader (though starred articles could be used this way as previously mentioned), there is a “saved webpage” functionality that could be used here in addition to an IFTTT recipe to port over the data to WordPress.
While Inoreader has a common feed reader read/unread functionality, it is often not used tacitly and this is a means of reducing friction within the application. Not really wanting to muddle the meaning of the “starred” article to do it, I’ve opted to adding an explicit “read” tag on posts I’ve read.
IFTTT does have a “New tagged article” recipe that will allow me to take articles in Inoreader with my “read” tag and post them to my website. It’s pretty simple and easy.
For dealing with replies, there is an odd quirk within Inoreader. Confoundingly the feed reader has two similar, yet still very different commenting functionalities. One is explicitly named “comment”, but sadly there isn’t a related IFTTT trigger nor an RSS feed to take advantage of the data one puts into the comment functionality. Fortunately there is a separate “broadcast” functionality. There is an IFTTT recipe for “new broadcasted article” that will allow one to take the reply/comment and post it to one’s WordPress website.
Like many of the above there is a specific IFTTT recipe that will allow one to add subscriptions directly to WordPress as posts, so that any new subscriptions (or follows) within the Inoreader interface can create follow posts! I doubt many people may use this recipe, but it’s awesome that it exists. Currently anything added to my blogrolls (aka Following Page) gets ported over to Inoreader via OPML subscription, so I’m curious if them being added that way will create these follow posts? And if so, is there a good date/time stamp for these? I still have to do some experimenting to see exactly how this is going to work.
RSS feed-based functionality
In addition to the IFTTT recipe functionality described above, one could also use IFTTT RSS functionality to pipe RSS feeds which Inoreader provides (especially via tags) into a WordPress website. I don’t personally use this sort of set up, but thought I’d at least mention it in passing so that anyone who might like to create other post types to their website could.
Custom posting in Inoreader with Post Kinds Plugin
If using a third-party service like IFTTT isn’t your cup of tea, Inoreader also allows custom sharing options. (There are also many pre-built ones for Facebook, Twitter, etc. and they’re also re-orderable as well.) I thus used WordPress’ post editor URL schemes to send the data I’d like to have from the original post to my own website. Inoreader actually has suggestions in their UI for how to effectuate this generically on WordPress. While this is nice, I’m a major user of the Post Kinds Plugin which allows me a lot more flexibility to post likes, bookmarks, favorites, reads, replies, etc. with the appropriate microformats and much richer metadata. Post Kinds has some additional URL structures which I’ve used in addition to the standard WordPress ones to take advantage of this. This has allowed me to create custom buttons for reads, bookmarks, replies, likes, and listens. With social sharing functionality in Inoreader enabled, each article in Inoreader has a sharing functionality in the bottom right corner that has a configuration option which brings up the following interface:
Once made, these custom button icons appear at the bottom of every post in Inoreader, so, for example, if I want to reply to a post I’ve just read, I can click on the reply button which will open a new browser window for a new post on my website. The Post Kinds plugin on my site automatically pulls in the URL of the original post, parses that page and–where available–pulls in the title, synopsis, post date/time, the author, author URL, author photo, and a featured photo as well as automatically setting the specific post kind and post format. A lot of this data helps to create a useful reply context on my website. I can then type in my reply to the post and add any other categories, tags, or data I’d like in my admin interface. Finally I publish the post which sends notifications to the original post I read (via Webmention).
Conclusion and future
With either of the above set ups, there are a few quick and easy clicks to create my posts and I’m done. Could it be simpler? Yes, but it likely won’t be much more until I’ve got a fully functional Microsub server and reader up and working.
Of course, I also love Inoreader and its huge variety of features and great usability. While I’m patiently awaiting having my own WordPress Microsub server, I certainly wouldn’t mind it if Inoreader decided to add some IndieWeb functionality itself. Then perhaps I wouldn’t need to make the switch in the near future.
What would this look like? It could include the ability to allow me to log into Inoreader using my own website using IndieAuth protocol. It could also add Micropub functionality to allow me to post all these things directly and explicitly to my website in an easier manner. And finally, if they really wanted to go even further, they could make themselves a Microsub server that enables me to use any one of several Microsub clients to read content and post to my own website. And of course the benefit to Inoreader is that if they support these open internet specifications, then their application not only works with WordPress sites with the few appropriate plugins, but Inoreader will also work with a huge variety of other content management systems that support these specs as well.
Whether or not Inoreader supports these protocols, there is a coming wave of new social feed readers that will begin to close many of these functional gaps that made RSS difficult. I know things will slowly, but eventually get better, simpler, and easier to use. Soon posting to one’s website and doing two way communication on the internet via truly social readers will be a reality, and one that’s likely to make it far easier to eschew the toxicity and problems of social sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Yesterday Luann was reading a colleague’s blog and noticed a bug. When she clicked the Subscribe link, the browser loaded a page of what looked like computer code. She asked, quite reasonably: “What’s wrong? Who do I report this to?”
That page of code is an RSS feed. It works the same way as...
RSS certainly has some significant user interface problems and Jon’s post certainly highlights a few of them. Lately I’ve far preferred how SubToMe helps ease some of these UI challenges. Their simple button is a great way for blogs to help pave the way to allow users to ore easily subscribe to a website via RSS.
Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia
It’s not just that the silos can shut down their feeds. It’s that we allowed ourselves to get herded into them in the first place. ❧
Interestingly, I came to this post in my feed reader while randomly looking for something I could use as an example in something I was writing about feed readers!!! December 02, 2018 at 09:18PM
Where’s my next dashboard? I imagine a next-gen reader that brings me the open web and my social circles in a way that helps me attend to and manage all the flow. There are apps for that, a nice example being FlowReader, which has been around since 2013. I try these things hopefully but so far none has stuck. ❧
I’m currently hoping that the next wave of social readers based on Microsub and which also support Micropub will be a major part of the answer. December 02, 2018 at 09:20PM
There are a lot of tutorials floating around the internet that describe how to create a custom RSS feed in WordPress. Most of them have you creating a new page template, copying the code that WordPress uses to generate feeds into the page … Continue reading →
I’ve run into a lot of the sort of tutorials that Philip is talking about. This way, while more sophisticated and non-intuitive to the non-profession, seems much more solid. Makes me want to play around.
I’m a fan of feeds. Whether is a curated RSS feed, a nice Twitter account or a great newsletter. All these are great tools to stay always up to date with things I care about and don’t miss out on “important news”.
While this seems like an interesting take on doing things, I view my feeds in my feed reader much the same way as I view the recordings on my DVR. They’re there waiting for the day or time I feel like visiting a particular channel and catching up. I definitely don’t look at it like a queue of things I might either miss out on or that I have to consume. They’re just there when I care to dip in and read a bit.
Jon Thurber, a veteran journalist whose long career at the Los Angeles Times included serving as managing editor of the print edition, has been named publisher of the Alhambra Source.
Thurber held a number of other management positions at the Times, including news obituary editor and editor of the book review, and he was also a leader of the paper’s reinvention committee as the Times transitioned from a predominantly print product to refocus its efforts on digital publication.
“Jon has the experience and vision to move the Alhambra Source forward to an even more dynamic civic institution in Alhambra and the larger SGV,” said Sandra Ball-Rokeach, Professor of Communication and Sociology Emerita at USC Annenberg School for Communication and one of the founders of the Alhambra Source.
Congratulations both to and on the new publisher!
I’ve recently begun reading a variety of more local news sources, most of which are built on the WordPress CMS, as is your publication. As a digital native, I often prefer reading my news via RSS feeds, but I find it surprising that many local SGV sources have (accidentally?) broken or are mismanaging their feeds.
I notice that the Alhambra Source’s main feed only contains the “News Round up” articles which primarily feature news in other outlets. While this type of advertising for and promotion of others’ work is nice, I’m subscribed to many of them already and would prefer a single feed with all of the Alhambra Source’s own original work instead! In fact, because I automatically subscribed to the AS’s main feed without looking at the site first, I was under the mistaken impression that it only did aggregation rather than original reporting, an impression which is obviously the opposite of reality.
Because a “main” feed is not available, I’m forced to subscribe to 8 separate feeds to attempt to get all of the great work coming out of AS. This feels like a bit much and could be easily fixed on your back end. A better solution would be to have your main feed include all of your articles (perhaps including the News Roundup), and then still provide the separate category-based feeds for those who are only interested in the subsections of news. (This would typically be the default for an out of the box WordPress installation.)
Finally, I’ve noticed that your feeds don’t include any of the photos featured in the articles, which is a shame since the site has some generally nice photography (particularly in comparison to competitors) to go along with the stories.
If you need any technical help, I’m happy to assist as I’d love to see better local news and events coverage in the Pasadena/SGV areas.
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Replied to@PasadenaGov on Twitter
@PasadenaGov You’ve got a lovely and simple WordPress site that has the built-in functionality to put out news via RSS. Why have you shut it off?
Since the earliest days of NetNewsWire, before 1.0 even shipped, I wanted to make the subscriptions list on disk an OPML file.
It seemed like using the standard format for listing RSS subscriptions would be a good idea. But I was never able to make that happen — until now, with NetNewsWire 5.0d7.