Unless you’ve been sitting under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you would be well aware of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that happened with Facebook. Around the same time, I came across an article on Twitter – the source for all the content I read, which says It’s Time for an RSS Revival. I wasn’t using Facebook much and this news has pushed me even farther from it. There are specific reasons I am still on Facebook but my activity has reduced significantly.
Ever since Google Reader was killed, I had been using this RSS reader called NewsBlur. But I was already significantly into using social media as a source of new content, so I never really used Newsblur seriously – in spite of me having a premium account all these years.
After reading the WIRED article on RSS comeback, I started introspecting my Twitter feed – I follow over 600 accounts. You do come across a lot of interesting stuff on social media, but the SNR (Signal to Noise Ratio) is pretty low – because you have a lot of interpersonal reactions going on there. Among the 600 accounts there’s hardly any site which I follow, rather they’re mostly people who tweet stuff that I’m interested in. I tried a couple of times to use Twitter lists by adding some sites I want to follow – that works, but it’s too much wastage of screen real estate, especially when you have a 22″ monitor.
So I went back to my RSS reader – Newsblur and started reorganizing my feeds. Much of the sites in there were actually imported directly from the site export in Google Reader. To my disbelief, I realized I had collected some really sites and blogs in it. Some of the sites had died so deleted them and added new sites which I usually came across in my Twitter feed. The main USP of Newsblur is that I have a grid mode to read my feed and a feature for filtering. To give you a context of the advantage of grid mode vs infinite scrolling a small column on Twitter, look at the following screenshots:
In my reader, I have eight, mind-blowing eight! articles per row whereas on Twitter, I have to scroll infinitely to read. Of course, one wouldn’t be reading stuff by going to site specific Twitter account instead you would follow them, and all of this will crowd into your main feed, coupled with social interactions. The additional terrific feature of Newsblur is it’s ability to filter the site by categories, titles, etc. If you noticed the screenshot of Newsblur I posted above, at the top right corner, you see it says “237 hidden stories”. That’s 237 less titles I have to skim through to find content I’m interested in. I’ve marked topics or titles which I do not want to see and it will not display those articles matching the filter.
Newsblur is too good, and you have to actually use it for a few days or months with a dozen of sites to appreciate it. It’s not just another RSS reader in the town. You can even read Twitter accounts and Email newsletters in it.
The best part of using RSS reader – there’s no AI based personalization (at least as of yet, in Newsblur), I don’t want either. I think they have less incentives to do it because they have a freemium model, but instead focus on features which improve the reading experience. Secondly, I get to see stuff ordered by time, in chronological order and it’s not polluted by promoted tweets and stuff or a quality filter (I know that can be turned off, but still).
An important section of feeds I added was blogs and sites which track stock markets and market news. During which, I came across this site called Alpha Ideas which posts some nice stuff about investments, market research and IPOs. The author also posts something called “Linkfests” regularly where he shares links of articles he read on the day / week. This is a very interesting idea, actually. Your own blog acts as a history of what you’ve read, so it’s easy to find stuff. No dependencies on external services which keep changing often. In the past I’ve used services like Pocket, Xmarks, Diigo, Delicious, and what not to track those but over a period of time they’re just annoying. In the same spirit, I’m going to do the same. Instead of spamming my Twitter followers by sharing articles, I’ll put them as a post in my blog every day or week, as possible and share a link on Twitter/etc.