Brian Feeney
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Missing Pieces of RSS

Matt Web has some thoughts on RSS which perfectly mirror my own:

It would be a good thing if RSS were more popular. When RSS is popular, it shifts the balance of power away from the social media platforms, which means that it doesn’t feed their ad targeting engines, or move people towards extremism. Plus it’s a less hectic, more egalitarian way to read.

BUT, the user experience around RSS has some sharp edges, and there are missing pieces that mean that RSS is unlikely to return to the mainstream. A corporate-owned platform could fix these missing pieces; it’s harder for RSS with its decentralised model.

I believe my app Feeeds could solve every problem with RSS Matt mentions: onboarding, newsletters, monetization, and discovery. And tons more. And it could do so without changing any of the infrastructure around RSS, nor force any required adoption of the app. Feeeds would be a voluntary tool, never requiring any site owner to change either code or design of their own websites. It's a community hub one opts into.

August 18, 2020

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Feeeds

RSS is still with us. It remains a major backbone of the internet as we know it. I'd love to say RSS is going strong, but that feels a stretch. The truth is that RSS has been shouldered to the curb by the popularity of social networks which are fundamentally antagonistic to the open web. They took the promise of Real Simple Syndication, and trapped its essence inside little prisons. Walled gardens, we call them, generously. While most people are happy in their little boxes, thousands of us are out here publishing our own websites on the open web, with the freedom and experimentation of the early internet. This is something to celebrate.

RSS on the open web continues because it's useful, it's reliable, and enough of us care about it to keep it going. We love our websites, and RSS helps make us a community. RSS ties us together, and I want to build an app which breathes new life into those connections. An app which could make those ties stronger. An app which might return personal blogs and websites — even major news and magazine publications — back to an even playing field with Facebook and Twitter.

I think a way to do this is to take what makes major social networks easy to use, and apply that to an RSS reader. Normal people will never care about RSS. But we do. We care about our favorite writers, and our favorite publications. We care about RSS. We care about the open web.

Feeeds prioritizes the people over the tech. It puts our names and faces on the surface. This is why I call Feeeds "a newsreader for writers." While RSS feeds are impersonal, the writing in those feeds are us. RSS is just plumbing, so we need a tool which humanizes that tech. We want to present faces and names instead of .xml and .rss files. Feeeds is that tool.

How It Works

The first step after signing into Feeeds is to attach your RSS feeds to that account. It might be one RSS feed. It might be five or more. Feeeds then offers two ways for your followers to access your RSS: either by viewing them in the reader view of the app, or by copying a bundled RSS feed and using that in the RSS reader of their choice.

How many readers have you lost over the years because you've changed your RSS feed location, or you started writing in a different blog or on another URL? The onus is on your readers to find any new RSS feeds you might have made. But, if your readers are using your up-to-date Feeeds feed, you can be sure you will always reach them. You won't have to rely on them finding your new RSS feed and adding it again to their RSS readers. They would be following you, not your RSS feeds directly. You.

Again, what Feeeds offers the open web, is a way for readers to follow people, to follow bloggers, authors, or journalists. If you have control over your RSS feeds, you can help your readers follow you better. They'll be connected to you, not your blog.

Are you a journalist who sometimes writes for multiple publications? Add the RSS feeds for your bylines to your Feeeds account. Be sure that your readers will always see what you publish, no matter which masthead it might be under. Do you run multiple blogs? Maybe one for personal use, one for your professional life, and others for side projects? Feeeds allows you one place to collect them, allowing others to find your scattered work easily. Perhaps they will find RSS feeds you produce they didn't even know existed.

Other Opportunities Feeeds Could Offer

Once all of these feeds exist in one place, tons of cool things can be done with them. So many great features could be built upon the vast array of RSS feeds inside the app.

  • Shareable bundles of feed groups
  • Monetization of feeds through paid access to untruncated feeds
  • Better search of open-web blogs via categorization and tags. This would include recommendations, or integration with Twitter/Facebook/contacts to discover RSS feeds belonging to people you are following elsewhere.
  • Auto-notifications for when your URL appears in another Feeeds RSS post. And tons more linking features on top of this.
  • Analytics for reader count, read count, "faved" posts, etc.

If you're interested, I have a giant Trello board full of ideas. https://trello.com/b/b4Q2HrY0/...

The Feeeds Newsreader

It would make sense for Feeeds to also be a newsreader itself. Once hundreds, thousands, or millions of feeds have been added to Feeeds, the most convenient place to read those feeds would be in that app. Newsreaders aren't highly complex applications, but, if designed well, they can open up tons of channels for discovery and curation. Users should be able to group their feeds by dozens of different categories: friends, family, publications, colleagues, industry, topics, etc.

The great thing about Feeeds is that it doesn't require any changes to RSS protocol, nor prescribes how anyone should run their own sites. It merely puts a more personal face to the technical nerdery that is RSS. And it's voluntary. You choose to put your feeds into Feeeds. Feeeds becomes an index of open web websites owned by people who want to be discovered, who want to be seen as a member of the open web community.

I've designed a Version 1.0.0 of the Feeeds app. I'll add a bunch of views below. But I don't have anyone to help me build it. If you're a developer and would love to work with me on this, please get in touch! If you know someone who might be interested in this project, please share this post! I'd love for Feeeds to become my full time job, but at this point, I'd be grateful if it were just a fun side project. I designed it six years ago. It's time for it to become a real thing!

August 18, 2020

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The Republic of Newsletters

I really like Robin's idea of a hardware device for reading open-web blogs:

I still believe in a Kindle/Analogue-esque device that, within it, contains an operating system that is half Patreon, half Substack, half Instapaper.

I think of this as the Republic of Newsletters writ large—The OmniBlog—where writers can publish their work and folks can subscribe via RSS but with a Coil-esque payment system built in and preloaded onto a physical e-reader. Writers could blog away, connected to eachother, whilst readers could subscribe to their work and perhaps even fund larger pieces of writing[.]

It's a fun idea to think about. A paperwhite-like screen would be amazing, but so many blogs also post images and videos. And the device would need a decent browser to allow following links. These are issues which make a separate hardware device less likely to happen. I mean, iPads. But it's interesting.

He ends by fearing he's "just described Medium," but I don't think so. The problem with Medium is that they possess your content. What the internet needs is a next-level application for finding, subscribing to, and reading blogs in one place, via RSS. Something a few notches better than what today's newsreaders provide.

August 13, 2020

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RSS and the Cost of Solo Subscriptons

Ajay, on Substack subscriptions:

In that introductory message I linked to above, Andrew mentions the similar Substack-based endeavors of Jesse Singal and Matt Taibbi, and while I think both of those guy as are superb journalists, if I were to subscribe to their work as well as Andrew’s that would cost me 150 bucks a year. I still might do it — but that’s a lot of coin for three voices.

There’s an economies-of-scale problem here. At a newspaper or magazine, writers share an editorial and technical infrastructure, so costs of production are distributed. Those who go it alone don’t get to benefit from that, and neither do their readers. So the cash outlay for those readers can escalate in a hurry.

This is one of the problems I solved for when designing Feeeds. While most RSS feeds users would add to their accounts would be full content, one would have the option to offer truncated feeds for links, but also paid feeds for receiving full content. In addition, feeds could be bundled by a group of bloggers who might want to publish their own "magazine" via RSS for a single fee.

Every few months, I see another reason why I should get this app off the ground.

July 23, 2020

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RSS Revived

Wired.com, It’s Time For an RSS Revival:

For many of you, that means finding a replacement for Digg Reader, which went the way of the ghost this month. Or maybe you haven’t used RSS since five years ago, when Google Reader, the beloved firehose of news headlines got the axe. For others, it means figuring out what the heck an RSS feed is in the first place—we’ll get to that in just a minute. And some of you have already moved on to the next article in your Feedly queue. No matter what your current disposition, though, in this age of algorithmic overreach there’s something deeply satisfying about finding stories beyond what your loudest Twitter follows shared, or that Facebook’s News Feed optimized into your life. And lots of tools that can get you there.”

So many posts these days calling for a big return of RSS. I’m here for it.

April 08, 2018

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Feeeds

A lot of people lately have been talking about RSS and the return of the blog. It seems as if everyone is wary of the end of Twitter, and are preparing themselves for a world without it. Most of us have already abandoned Facebook as a social hub, leaving it delegated as a second-class contact list. If we abandon Twitter, too, where are we going to go? There aren't any other promising social networks out there, and there doesn't appear to be one coming up any time soon. This leaves us looking back to the days pre-Social Media — back to blogs.

It's painfully easy to set up a blog today. You could use Tumblr, Squarespace, Blogspot, etc., and have a blog up in less than an hour. Most of these products require little to no knowledge of how the web works. It does take some initiative. It takes even more initiative to run your own blog on your own server on your own domain. These are the sites I'm fascinated with. I love having my own website and I love that so many people I look up to have their own as well. I want to celebrate these people, raise them up, give them a higher platform. I want to connect them.

Are there any good indexes for all these popular blogs? I haven't found any. Why wouldn't there be? Is this something that should be built? I'm seriously thinking about it. There may be a very good reason why such a thing doesn't exist. People smarter than me would know why. But I'd love to build this thing.

I've been calling my idea Feeeds (for lack of a better name). I think of it as non-social network. There would be personal accounts, but they don't exist for communication. Their sole purpose would be for building communities, while any and all conversation takes place elsewhere. You would come to Feeeds to see who's writing, but go to their own sites to see what they're saying.

I want to connect people with as little interference as possible. Which means that, for people who have their own websites and enjoy owning their own content, I wouldn't encroach upon what's theirs. There would be no walled garden. I believe in a wild, varied, decentralized Internet. Feeeds would be more like an address book, a place to go to find personal blogs to read and follow.

I want to stress again that I have no intention of building anything that purports to being the next new social network. I don't want the responsibility of owning anyone's content and I don't want anyone to feel like they're giving me anything. But I do want to build something that can help surface all the personal websites and blogs out there which deserve attention and love.

Brent Simmons names RSS as one of the pillars of the web that'll never go away, and I believe that. I also believe we've not fully tapped the power of RSS. There are billions of feeds out, many thousands of which are good blogs languishing in dark unlit corners. I want to take everyone's personal and beloved RSS feeds and show them the love they deserve.

Currently, the best avenue for exposing yourself to the greater world is Twitter. But Twitter is a poor Rolodex for personal websites. It's a terrible index. Even so, Twitter is where I go to find new people in my industry and to find out more about them. But might there be a better way? What if there *was* an actual index online for people with personal websites? There are so many great people out there maintaining their own websites. It's difficult to keep track of them all. And I'd like to.

This isn't about marketing, either. The point of this wouldn't be for promoting oneself. It's merely a way to say, "I'm here." We can't rely on Google to be the hub — its net is far too wide. Relying on nothing leaves the job to word of mouth.

So, again, why doesn't this exist? I suppose, most obviously, it requires buy-in. It needs to be voluntary. People would only engage with this if they chose to do so. Being voluntary, a certain threshold of users would be necessary before it became truly useful. This is so very hard to do, and failing at this has been the downfall of so many web services.

I have other ideas for this. It's a project that I can see growing and becoming something real. I'd love to build it. Anyone care to help? Any and all thoughts about this are welcome.

August 29, 2014

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Innovate with RSS

Dave Winer thinks it’s time to give RSS another shot:

If I were Google I’d fight Facebook with RSS. Re-integrate RSS with Chrome. Make subscription something browsers support. Provide an open, clonable, simple web service that returns a subscription list for any user with permission of course so a million ideas for RSS aggregators can bloom. A browser button that says Subscribe To This. Surround Facebook with open innovation from small developers everywhere.

I agree. I really appreciate the functionality of RSS, of being able to curate my own reading list, and I’m certain most people would, too, if they understood it better. As it stands, RSS isn’t so easy for the average internet user to comprehend. It’s not obvious enough. RSS needs a rebranding.

If I were Google and were taking Winer’s advice I would focus on rebranding the experience. A few things need to happen for it to be a success. First, RSS functionality needs to be as clear and fundamental as the address bar, tabs, and navigation. Place it where it won’t be missed. Second, make organizing feeds a smooth and frictionless process. It could still be folders and tags, but designed so it doesn’t take much time or thought. And third, advertise it. Make it clear how many feeds are out there (A: millions), and convince people of how much they’ll benefit.

If done well, I can’t see how it wouldn’t take off. People are devouring apps like Flipboard and News.me. Since Google wants so badly to be a Social player, Winer might be right in suggesting they pull in their reins on RSS. What I’m imagining isn’t too far off from Google Reader. They’re close. But Google Reader feels more like a feature than a central product. It just needs all the TLC they gave to the Google+ failure.

Clearly, Google wants what Facebook’s got. And I think Winer’s right in that it should tack in a different direction. Instead of attempting to clone Facebook, it should make the rest of the internet feel as Facebook-like as possible. Facebook is a walled-in garden. RSS is open ocean. If done right, there wouldn’t be the friction of a suspicion-inducing opt-in. If you’re reading on the internet, you could just as easily be doing so via RSS.

Another thought: RSS could also be a revenue stream for magazines’ online content. They could sell subscriptions to their writers’ feeds for $1/yr (or something), or subscriptions to different sections (i.e. Financial sections, Editorial, etc.), or, for a higher fee, to bundles, or maybe even every feed (the entire magazine) for a premium price. For example, I’m sure the New Yorker would make a pretty penny selling a subscription to only their fiction section. Even at $12/yr, I would probably buy that. I would certainly pay $1/yr for just the World in Review section of the Economist.

I don’t assume I’m the first to have these thoughts. But they make sense to me and I wonder what’s the hold up?

March 23, 2012

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