It's Time for an RSS Revival

Brian Barrett for Wired:

The modern web contains no shortage of horrors, from ubiquitous ad trackers to all-consuming platforms to YouTube comments, generally. Unfortunately, there's no panacea for what ails this internet we've built. But anyone weary of black-box algorithms controlling what you see online at least has a respite, one that's been there all along but has often gone ignored. Tired of Twitter? Facebook fatigued? It's time to head back to RSS.

I've been an RSS user for many years now and as my interest in reading and writing waxes and wanes, my reliance on it does also. RSS is a great way to get information directly from lots of places in one centralized location. It saves time. RSS has been like this from the start and has changed very little. Still, the readers and feed management solutions on the market today lack modern nescessities that weren't even considered at the height of Google Reader's reign. For instance, feed filtering.

Here's Brian's rundown on the most popular services on the market today:

Still, Feedly has plenty to offer casual users. It has a clean user interface, and the free version of its service lets you follow 100 sources, categorized into up to three feeds—think News, Sports, Humor, or wherever your interests lie. It also shows how popular each story is, both on Feedly and across various social networks, to give you a sense of what people are reading without letting that information dictate what you see.

For more of a throwback feel, you might try The Old Reader, which strips down the RSS reader experience while still emphasizing a social component.

Power users, meanwhile, might try Inoreader, which offers for free many of the features—unlimited feeds and tags, and some key integrations—Feedly reserves for paid accounts. "I would say that at the moment Feedly is ahead of us in terms of mass appeal design look and UX, which is something we will try to tackle with our upcoming redesign," says Victor Stankov, Inoreader's business development manager. "Hardcore nerds love us way more than Feedly."

And those are just three options of many. The point being: In 2018, it's easy to find an RSS reader out there that suits your needs. Which, in hindsight, is no small miracle.

I've used all of these services and many more over the years trying to find one that suits my needs.

As the editor of a blog dedicated to logging the history of one musician's career, I subscribe to dozens of feeds that focus on hip-hop, pop, and industry news. Naturally each of these outlets churn out five to fifteen news stories a day. Factored out, that's a lot of headlines to surf. It's impossible to catch every passing reference to a singular topic in that much text. That's where filtering comes in.

There is FeedRinse, who has been promising a 2.0 launch for a few years now but still offers their old service in the meantime. There you can import your feeds and setup filters using keywords, author, tags as criteria and export them to a single new feed, but this isn't sustainable when you're consistently adding new sources. I've had issues with the exported feeds missing things as well. I'm looking forward to the relaunch, but meanwhile I've had to look elsewhere.

Beyond finnicky made-to-order python scripts that parse and filter feeds, I've found just two other pre-built options for cutting the fat from my feeds. Newsblur and Inoreader. Niether have beautiful interfaces, but do cater to an audience more savvy and reliant on RSS than your typical reader.

Newsblur boasts about six thousand premium users and an equal number of free users. They offer unique training features that highlight topics you are more likely to be interested in, but the keyword filtering isn't quite as robust as I'm looking for. Inoreader has the capability but an even worse interface, as Stankov alluded to above. I've tried their premium service a few times and I'm pretty happy with what comes through my filters, but exporting my cleaned feeds to my day-to-day RSS client Reeder 3 makes for messy metadata.

In the end, my setup for specialized topics generally consists of numerous services chained together, removing and adding metadata as it passes through filters and aggregators until it reaches my device. This isn't ideal and it only mostly works.

I don't think that RSS has necessarily died off as a result of Google Reader, but become more fragmented. There are few realms of this sort of technology that remain unstandardized in how it is consumed, something podcasters wish to maintain. In podcasting, which piggybacks on RSS, this has lead to a number of highly-featured clients. What exists in RSS readers is lacking in comparison.

I think there is major room for growth in this area and as more people spend less time on social networks, they'll likely revisit more analog options for news gathering. As the number of outlets increases, I hope that the major players in the RSS market will address my needs for topic-based filtering as well.

I'm open to any solutions worth testing.

Hungry

I haven't been writing much lately. I haven't been reading much lately either. I haven't been sleeping well lately and it's not because of the squirrels in our attic or the pretzel-like configuration my partner, my dog, and I make when we tuck in for the night.

It's all tied up in this constant anxiety I have that I'm not making something. I work, I attend class, I work on assignments for class, and I drive to and from places where my attendance is taken. After analyzing the data, I found that about 87% of my current life is spent in one of those places, commuting, or sleeping. Between it all, there's just 13% where I can finish my taxes, get fitted for a wedding, get my oil changed, see my parents, bathe my dog, or enjoy a few hours with my partner.

It's a compulsion, making things. I sit down at my iMac not because there is anything in particular that needs to get done, but because something has to get done for the world to be okay. When I log in, I aimlessly open tabs and programs while I wait for my brain to tell me what the plan is. There's never any blueprints, just a vague feeling that the materials are here and they need to be assembled or else...

I'm on Spring break now for a few more days. Mae has work, so I've got plenty of time to myself throughout the day. My goals were to finish the chores that have been piling up over the past few weeks, complete a few assignments to give myself some breathing room when the semester resumes, and to get back to basics. What the latter means is ambiguous even to me. I do know that I want to write more. I haven't really written anything of substance in a year and a half. I know that reading ties in here. I write more when I read more and I haven't finished a book since Gene Wilder died.

I'll tell you what though, I've certainly purchased books since Alzheimer's took Leo Bloom. My shelves are bursting and my Barnes & Noble membership has been twice renewed. Whenever the mood strikes, I think "Yes, but first..." and then I'm down a rabbit hole of CSS tricks or Beatles Bootlegs. It never fails.

Digression is eight tenths of the process here, so I suppose it's okay to mention that thanks to a combination of Merlin Mann programs I've been listening to, I was sent into my yearly Beatles deep-dive a few months early. Normally my Fabsession starts when it's a little warmer, but last year's Sgt. Pepper's remixes were calling and I found some nifty books at the aforementioned brick and mortar. I've actually been reading those, but I haven't kept the streak going long enough to call it a comeback.

This post was the result of the hunger to make something, but it came out as a late dessert. I logged in with the intention to write something at about 6:00PM yesterday. It's 1:55AM now and what I have to show for the time spent are three Letterboxd entries and the new site layout you see before you now. My fingers were itching to type and my mouse navigated to my Squarespace admin panel, but I was getting tired with the old layout. It was a reminder of a time when I took this blog more seriously than it deserved and it needed to be changed before anything else could be done. Goodbye steely blue and slate, hello hamburger.

I hate nothing more than a podcast or a blog post that reminds you that it's the first one published in a while. It peeves me to no end when apologies are made to an unseen audience because it assumes that there is an audience left to begin with. I've seen my social media interactions decrease and my page views fall steadily over the last few years. Content is king and my blog is no empire. I'm not sure how royal it ever was to begin with, but it's surely a sad fiefdom now.

I'm not mad about that. I've given up entirely on what motivated me through my first round of college. This analogy lacks the green icon on your local bistro's menu, but the music industry is a lot like a packing house and if you don't stop moving, you'll quickly be hung up solid with the rest who couldn't cut it. No no, I prefer warmer air. What irks me is that I let something I was once good at spoil with the rest of it all. When I left UTG, when I stepped away from Substream, when Variable Bitrate burnt out, I had no reason to write. I suppose still don't have a reason, or to write is a reason in and of itself, but it feels good just to do it. It's weird how there's always something from Dig Up The Dead that relates, but here we are. I'll end with this sentiment from Chris:

Well God is dead and there are no good reasons I should sing
But I still do it anyway, yeah, I am singing all the same

Mae said I should keep a journal and let her know where I keep it so that she can read it. This should do.

VBR #16: 'I Would Just Like Band Pages', with guest Tyler Sharp

I almost took a job at AltPress out of high school, there have been times I regretted going a different route, but knowing what I know now, I'm glad I didn't make the move to Cleveland.

I love Alternative Press. I don't always agree with their cover stars, but I also don't know as much as I think I do about a lot of people in this industry. More than the content of the magazine itself, I love the people I've had the opportunity to befriend and work with there. Mike Shea was a strong influence on me coming into this world and Jason Pettigrew is someone I admire and argue the value of 00s soft rock with frequently. Tyler Sharp was one of the lastest to join their team that I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with on PR projects. Only this week did I find out just how much we have in common.

Tyler Sharp left his dream job at Alternative Press and I've been dying to know why. We talk about what it is that makes midwest kids blog so much, how he was able to write 8,000 news stories, canceled NBC program Heroes, and what Tyler plans to do now.

Find the show on Twitter and on iTunes. If you'd like to sponsor the show, drop me a line here.

Goodbye AbsolutePunk, Hello Chorus

Jason Tate has bought back the Absolutepunk name and URL from SPIN Group and launched a new platform for the community to move to.

I had started my first business, AbsolutePunk, LLC, as a teenager with cargo shorts and puka shells. I started my second, Chorus, LLC, in my early thirties — an online consulting business that included running that very same website I had started when we all wanted to look like Kenny Vasoli. Today I’m writing to announce that my second company is buying back my first.

This follows a lengthy contract with SPIN that kept ap.net looking dated, vulnerable to spam, and Jason creatively discouraged. Speaking to him recently, I've drawn a lot of parallels to my struggles with Under The Gun and SPIN but I can hardly compare the levels of hardship. Jason had it rough for years and if I felt defeated for my lack of control at UTG for 2 years, I can't imagine his anguish for the past 7 or so. This is a very good thing.

Chorus looks great, works great, and already has a wonderful community of beta testers. I've had the pleasure of testing out Chorus for a few weeks and, for the first time in years, I am enjoying the conversation and interaction with strangers on a message board. Chorus is everything I liked about Absolutepunk without everything I didn't care for at Absolutepunk. The code of conduct is more strict—which hopefully keep the homophobic trolls at bay. Some senior members and popular posters at ap.net have moved over and will provide new members guidance and set a hospitable and inclusive tone. Most importantly, the site is under Jason's full control which means a tighter relationship between user, developer, and the business models put in place.

I encourage anyone who has been a user of Absolutepunk in the past 2 decades to read Jason's letter. I think a lot of people think they know the guy, but never consider the weight he's had on his shoulders. Weight put there by a terrible company seemingly bent on crushing the souls of the property admins they convinced to "sell out." I know I mistakenly resented him for many years for Lord knows what reason, perpetuated by thinking that he felt the same way towards me. It's only because he reached out and invited me to see what he was working on at Chorus that I actually got to know him a little. I'm excited at the prospect of getting to know him and the community that he's built better as they both move forward. I think Chorus has promise far beyond that of Absolutepunk and I'm eager to see how the big switch plays out.

PS: You can find me on Chorus here.

Chris Miller's Analysis Of The Force Awakens series

Chris Miller (AKA Darth Hound) is several features into an insightful series on The Force Awakens and its characters on The Star Wars Report.

According to the Visual Dictionary and the novelization, Snoke sees Kylo as the perfect embodiment of the Force, having familial connections with both the dark side and the light. This could be a clue that the Force philosophy they follow is not that of the Sith, but something newer, or older.

Chris has penned his thoughts and observations about TFA characters primary and secondary including Maz Kanata, General Hux, Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren, Poe, Leia, Snoke, Lor San Tekka, the droids, and Chewbacca. If you are interested in expanded knowledge of the film and its cast but don't have time for the books, Chris' writing would be a valuable asset to you.