RSS Readers Are Better Than Ever, Thanks to Twitter & Reddit

Twitter and Reddit are both cracking down on third-party apps and connected services while making the official apps and sites worse. If you want to curate your own news feed, it’s time to party like it’s 2005 and set up an RSS reader.

Twitter shut down all third-party apps earlier in 2023, as Elon Musk (the platform’s new owner) tried to boost revenue to compensate for rapidly declining revenue. That included charging significantly more money for access to Twitter’s API, which third-party apps like Fenix, Tweetbot, and Twitterific relied on for all functionality. There was no way for third-party apps to cover the new API costs, so all of them shut down, with some of the developers moving on to creating Mastodon apps.

Reddit apparently thinks that was a great idea because it also announced changes to its API that would make them cost-prohibitive for all third-party apps. The developers for Apollo, Reddit is Fun, Reddit Sync, and others have confirmed that their apps are shutting down. That’s especially a loss for mobile devices — Reddit’s official mobile app is poorly designed, broken for some people with accessibility issues, and still loaded with NFT garbage.

So, in just a few months, dozens of popular apps for accessing two significant social media platforms and news sources died. Despite the many problems with both platforms, there’s no denying that Twitter has been an important source for news (especially for independent journalism) over the years, and Reddit is a treasure trove of valuable discussions and shared knowledge. Third-party apps made that information more accessible, searchable, and enjoyable, and now all of them are gone or about to be gone.

There are alternatives to both Twitter and Reddit — Mastodon is the most direct replacement for Twitter, and Lemmy is gaining traction as a Reddit replacement. However, even if you use those already or didn’t care about Twitter or Reddit in the first place, you should consider trying out an RSS reader.

The Case for RSS

RSS, short for Really Simple Syndication, is a feed format for updates to web content. Many news websites and blogs provide RSS feeds for new articles, and subscribing to them with an RSS reader allows you to see content from different places in one organized view. It’s not just for news, though — YouTube channels can be RSS feeds, most podcasts use RSS for distribution, Reddit has great RSS support (for the moment), and many remote monitoring platforms can deliver messages through RSS.

In the 2000s and early 2010s, RSS was a much more recognizable technology. Websites proudly displayed RSS badges with links to their feeds, Apple CEO Steve Jobs talked about Safari’s RSS features for five whole minutes during the WWDC 2004 keynote, and Microsoft Outlook and Internet Explorer could subscribe to RSS readers. Even social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook could turn an account’s posts into an RSS feed.

However, RSS feeds started falling out of fashion a few years later for a few different reasons. More people started using social media platforms as a source for news and important updates. Algorithmic content recommendation services, like Google Discover (also known as Google Now or Google Feed) and Flipboard, also became more popular because most people don’t want to meticulously curate their personal news feeds. You could make the argument that the golden age of RSS ended on July 1, 2013, when Google Reader was shut down.

Thankfully, RSS is still in widespread use, and there are still many RSS reader apps and services on every platform. With platforms like Reddit and Twitter locking down access, and algorithmic recommendation engines like Google Discover often filled with junk content, RSS might just be the best way to stay informed about what is important to you.

Getting Started with RSS

The best way to get started with RSS is probably to set up a cloud-based RSS reader, like Inoreader, Feedly, or Newsblur. They have desktop sites and mobile apps for reading content, complete with cloud synchronization support for keeping track of what you’ve read. Many RSS reader services have an API for third-party apps, giving you even more options for a great reading experience.

I’ve used both Feedly and Inoreader over the years (and Google Reader, way back when), but right now I’m using Feedly for my personal feeds. I use the Reeder app on Mac for reading my feeds on my computer, and the Feedly app on my mobile devices. Generally, you can just paste the website address into Feedly and other services, and it will try to find any available RSS feeds. Some news sites and blogs also have a page somewhere with categorized RSS feed links (such as The Washington Post and CNN), but you might need a web search to find those.

Reeder 5 image
Reeder for Mac connected to a Feedly account

You also don’t have to use a cloud-based solution at all. For example, Reeder for Mac and Newsflow for Windows can check RSS feeds without connecting to any external services — you just might lose out on some cloud synchronization features.

Importantly, RSS is not controlled by any one company. You can use any service or application you want, and if you end up not liking it, you can export your feeds and take them to another app. That’s a level of flexibility that is becoming rarer and rarer, outside of defederated platforms like Mastodon.

I recommend giving RSS a try, especially if you’ve become frustrated with other information sources like Twitter, Google Discover, or Reddit. It’s not a true replacement for any of those services, but it can help you keep track of some topics and news sources, in a way that can’t be completely disrupted at a moment’s notice by a single tech company CEO.

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