RSS: I tried. Really.

Talk to me about RSS.

Am I the only person that doesn’t find this to be much of a

I read a lot of regularly-updated websites, from Slashdot and
Metafilter down to some
more obscure stuff, and pretty near all of
them offer RSS
. Instead of having to go site to site, I can
just read them all in once place! It sounds like a great idea.

So I tried syndicating
them here on LiveJournal. That didn’t work out very well, because some
of them (Slashdot, BBC Newsworld) get updated so often that
I end up having to go back pages and pages, and missing all of the ones
that update once daily (which are usually pretty high-quality) in the

So I decided to only read the low-traffic ones
that way. It still didn’t work out that well — I’d forget to check,
because it didn’t update that often, and then the sites’ posts would be
interspersed with one another, and so on.

So I tried a standalone RSS reader (well, one built into Firebird),
which let me read one site at a time via RSS, and that seemed even
more useless, because reading one site at a time is what it’s
meant to avoid, or so I thought. If I’m going to read one site at
a time, I might as well bring up the site and see the original!

It seems that RSS readers miss out on all of the things that make the
original sites interesting to read. For instance, on Slashdot via Alterslash and on Metafilter, a lot of information
is conveyed in the number of comments on a post; on, the interspersed reviews
and “remaindered links” break things up nicely; on BBC Newsworld, the size of articles’
headlines conveys useful information, and so on.

In the end there are three things that I use RSS for that I find useful,
or that I understand the value of:

  • Reading other people’s blogs — but not news sites — on
    my LiveJournal friends page. That lets my friends page work whether or
    not someone happens to use LiveJournal, and is thus good.

  • Adding modules to infobots without having to send someone a patch.
    Infobot has had a “read RSS headlines” feature for a while, and for
    the most part it’s never used for actually reading headlines anymore,
    but as a general RPC mechanism. There are a gazillion nicer RPC
    mechanisms that could be used here, such as the ever-popular “plain
    text in response to an HTTP request” one, so this seems only
    incidentially good.

  • Slashboxes and their equivalents — listing the headlines (only)
    from a related website in a sidebar.

But there’s so much talk about RSS aggregation that it seems odd that
it feels odd that using an RSS aggregator is a less pleasant experience
than going through a bookmarks folder one by one.

Am I unique in not having this itch to scratch?

14 responses to “RSS: I tried. Really.”

  1. I gave up. Aside from crazy XSS (like feeding my links into a blog or something) I can’t really see much use anymore. I just resorted to making a bookmarks folder with all the blogs I read and selecting ‘open all links in tabs’ and sifting through them.

    Half of the problem to me is people using crappy old RSS 0.9x standards that don’t time/datestamp or people who put so little in RSS that it’s absolutely worthless (see slashdot)

  2. I find RSS very useful. My main beef is sites (like bbcworldnews and Vaults Of Erowid) that post every single item as a separate headline, thus ‘spamming’ the aggregation, instead of providing a compact list of new things in a single entry.

  3. It’s a big global bookmarks library! You put links in there and you can see who else has linked those links and browser other peoples links and so forth! It’s almost exactly the same concept I was going to do for a while ago.

    In my opinion something like (minus the the global bits) should have been implimented in a browser ages ago. I’ve always thought that the idea of a browser bookmarks list is somewhat outdated, as I’m always populating it with a bunch of crap that I’d like to keep track of but I never look at that often. With the edition of an in browser simple database backed library of links with metadata, I could simply pop up a locally generated page and do a search for foozle or wazzle in my library, instead of having to dig through a ton of links in my bookmarks list.

  4. I would have to agree that the LiveJournal syndication really only seems to be useful for other people’s blogs. What I would really like to do is put some syndication headlines in a little SlashBox-type of thing in a sidebar, but until the LJ style system lets you use iframes or JavaScript, it becomes a little difficult to do this.

    I am now using an RSS reader as much as my browser. I have not tried the one in Firebird (in fact, I didn’t even realize there was one), but that screenshot seems like it is missing something. I see sites, headlines, and the rendered pages, but not the content-within-RSS stuff. Personally, I use NewNewsWire (screenshot of normal view, screenshot of inline view that some like, but I find annoying). Clicking on a title in the upper-right quadrant (or arrowing to it…it is pretty keyboard friendly) displays the RSS feed content. Double clicking on a title in the upper-right quadrant (or hitting enter after arrowing to it) launches the specific article’s URL in my browser. Double clicking on the name of the site in the left quadrant (or via keyboarding) opens the site’s front page in my browser.

    Yes, I do miss out on several things when looking at the RSS overview like this. Many sites have full articles with links (and sometimes even images) published in their RSS feeds. Many others print the first few sentences. Some simply have article titles, so you have to click over to the site anyway. The RSS specification has fields for things like the number of comments and the URL for viewing all comments or posting a comment. Unfortunately, few sites publish this data and even fewer readers will display it if it’s there.

    Overall, I am really happy with this particular newsreader (I am sure there are others with a similar featureset/interface for Unix, Windows, etc). My happiness with using the feeds out there with a good reader ranges from “mildly annoyed” to “extremely happy.”

  5. I tried a while back to use RSS. I found it was very useful for keeping track of 105 websites at once.

    I read perhaps 12.

    I dropped it.

  6. Macromedia Central is a flash-based distributed information console that you can use to write applications, and one of it’s spiffiest pre-made applications is a slashbox-like RSS reader. It’s pretty darn spiffy, even if Central isn’t ready for the primetime yet.

  7. Works moderately well for cartoons, though that’s probably due to a large extent to the fact that

    1. they typically only update once a day, not a bunch of times like news sites, and
    2. you typically don’t watch that many different cartoon sites, so the interleaving isn’t that much of a problem.

    On the other hand, then you have problems with feeds breaking or being taken offline since they don’t generate ad revenue. Which is understandable but slightly annoying once you’ve got used to getting your entire cartoon fix in one place.

    (Not to mention wonky screen-scrapers that only fetch one panel of multi-panel [e.g. Sunday] cartoons, so you end up having to visit the site anyway…)

  8. No, I haven’t heard about it yet.

    Mine looks like this.

    A page a day? Hmm. Can you also see several days’ worth of one comic at once, e.g. if you don’t watch for a while and want to see the story line?

    (And isn’t re-publishing the strips on the Internet risky?)

  9. Can you also see several days’ worth of one comic at once

    No, but you can configure it (and I do) to not just link to the images but to download them locally, and keep N days worth around. (The “previous day” link on mine will work for nine days, IIRC.)

    And isn’t re-publishing the strips on the Internet risky?

    Shouldn’t be. In any case, mine is up there for me only anyhow; if they complain, I throw .htaccess up and it still works as expected.

    I figure it’s no different than reading them at the SF Gate or Washington Post’s website but not actually buying the Gate or the Post. :-)