A Gentle Explainer for the Ever Obscure RSS

If Facebook is starting to seem like the DeathStar, and Google is too Borg-like, ifTikTok’s state-ownership worries you, then its time join a rebellion of sorts. One of the ways to fight the power of the big platforms is to use low-tech tech, preferably open source stuff. But, being a rebel sometimes takes work. There’s a commitment involved, and the payoff is, more often than not, a sort of moral victory.

One way to work against the tyranny of the algorithms is actually pretty simple. And, the payoff is clear and often delightful.

Get your news via RSS. Not sure what RSS is? Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

RSS is a “deep cut” tech tool, one that the OG digital nerds have been using for a while. The Atlantic offers a nice, easy explainer, along with a link to some tools.

But though RSS is remarkably useful, it can be daunting to the uninitiated, and it lacks the slick marketing and cultural footprint of the social-media giants.

Riverside.fm has a great, free write up, too. But, basically, RSS is tech to standardize “feeds” of news items from a site. The feeds are in an open format, making it easy to share/syndicate content from one site to another in a trusted, dependable, open way. Its foundational tech for podcasting (podcasts get to your podcast app via RSS Feeds in  most cases).

RSS never got past cult-favorite because there was never a killer app for it. Its background tech, not the app you download. More importantly, news sites could never really make money on RSS feeds (the ads that showed up in feeds were awful an untrackable). Moreover, the RSS feeds made it so that users never even had to get to your site. The tech was, in some ways, anti-revenue.  So, it never got the love it should have because it was not in the Publishers’ best interests.

But, it’s still out there. There’s delightful world of publishers to find and discover through their RSS Feeds. And, its a fun way to fight the power of the big platforms.

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