If you ask most people how they get their news online these days, they are likely to answer that it’s via social media. Whether it’s following news outlets on Twitter, or clicking through to articles shared by friends or contacts on Facebook, these shared networks have become a primary source of information gathering.
However, if you go back a few years, before social media had taken over the internet space, there were many who got their news via RSS feeds. RSS stands for “real simple syndication”, or “rich site summary”, They serve as a summary of everything that’s published on a given website, presented in a readable, simplified format. Their utility comes from the fact that users can create their own custom aggregation lists by subscribing to the RSS feeds of the websites they like. As the RSS Wikipedia page puts it: “These feeds can, for example, allow a user to keep track of many different websites in a single news aggregator. The news aggregator will automatically check the RSS feed for new content, allowing the content to be automatically passed from website to website or from website to user.”
The benefit here is that instead of trawling busy homepages full of ads and pictures for news, a reader can simply browse the headlines of their RSS feed to make sure they haven’t missed anything they want to read. While social media now provides a function similar to this, there are flaws in the system. That is why there is still a dedicated corner of the internet that argues that RSS feeds are a superior way to track news online.
Gizmodo recently explained some of the unique pros: “One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes—not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.”
This means that you don’t just get exposure to the articles your like-minded friends are getting or ones that you are likely to have found elsewhere. Similar to browsing a newspaper’s headlines, you get exposure to a wider breadth of topics. While that might sound like too much information, Gizmodo went on to explain the benefit of that: “In our age of information overload that might seem like a bad idea, but RSS also cuts out everything you don’t want to hear about. You’re in full control of what’s in your feed and what isn’t, so you don’t get friends and colleagues throwing links into your feeds that you’ve got no interest in reading.”
While it is of course still possible to create the dreaded filter bubble using a RSS feed, it does cut out a lot of the “noise” you may not want with your news, such as your opinionated colleagues political tirade or a relative’s misunderstanding of basic facts. What’s more, adding a few sources or websites that are counter to your views into your RSS feed can also help you overcome the echo chamber effect that tends to happen on social media.
If you want to change up your reading regimen with an RSS subscription, there are several options you can use. While the very popular Google Reader was put to bed in 2013—allegedly because “Larry Page and other higher-ups at Google simply didn’t care for the product”—there are several other options. Digg Reader is possible, as is Feedly, which offers a paid-for premium version. However, one note of advice is to make sure any RSS reader you choose has an export option, just in case your chosen client shuts down in the future, as was the case with Google Reader.