I'm Keeping Up With Absolutely Everything

OK. I can’t keep up with absolutely everything. But I’m trying something new – old, actually, but new to me – and I’m sharing it here in hope that somebody reading this uses it too, and has experience to share with me.

It’s called RSS.

(Thank you, and congratulations: you just completed, and chose to move past, the most boring sentence in this post.)

When I first set up this website, in the summer of 2000 (21 years ago – I know!), my web designer put an RSS logo on it. I had no idea what it was, and at some point I removed it.

But recently I watched a short video by Seth Godin explaining what RSS is, how it works, and how Google tried to kill it.

I don’t know about you, but my ears tend to prick up when I hear about Google trying to kill something. Because I feel that Google has enough power over the exchange of ideas online.

Google’s mighty arm

For instance:

1. If you sign up to receive my email newsletter, Google might decide to hide my emails your spam folder.
2. If you sign up for anybody else’s email newsletter, ditto.
3. If you send out your own email newsletter – well you know what might happen.

Of course, it’s not just Google. On Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, I can try sharing things I write here and you might just possibly see them. But you might not.

(Probably won’t.)

This is where RSS comes in, Godin explained. By subscribing to the RSS feed of journals, organisations and personal blogs I like, I won’t miss anything. Every new post will automatically pop up in my RSS Reader and stay there till I mark it as read.

I wasn’t immediately sure I liked the sound of that. Sounds like my email inbox. And I’ve had enough of “holy grail” technology that turns out to be a monstrous time-waster – another thing I must teach myself to use, only for the maker to bring out a whizzy update I didn’t want.

But I let it all sink in for a while, and after a few days I decided to follow Godin’s example.

I added an RSS Reader called Feedly (there are others) to my iPad and iPhone, and opened it in my browser. Not wanting to get overwhelmed, I subscribed to the RSS feed for a small handful of journals, organisations and personal blogs, covering some of my interests.

Here’s what I learned

Over a short time, I acquired a very clear sense of what these sources put out, from one day to the next. Is that important? Well, it takes me back to a time when my content all came shrink-wrapped, and dropped through my letter box. Back then, I just knew when I had read the latest issue.

You might say that I can still do that with print magazines, and you’d be quite right. But not with blogs.

Interestingly, Feedly also lets me see instantly (without checking lots of different websites) that some sources haven’t posted for a long time. I find that I’m yearning for them to do so – a yearning that social media strangles by distraction, because on social media all kinds of people are posting all kinds of things all the time.

I don’t know about you, but I went on social media for the upsides, and never clearly saw what I was giving up. This experiment with RSS has been like putting the process into reverse.

I see now that if I attempt to keep up with the sources that matter to me using only using social media, I might never see somebody’s latest post because Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter have algorithms that might simply not show me. Plus, I condemn myself to the certainty of distraction.

As for email newsletters: I’ll probably never know if Google chooses to put them in spam.

Godin says he keeps up with 200 sources a day, in less than an hour. I won’t need that many, or use that much time. But I’m enjoying Feedly.

Do you use an RSS reader? Might you try? Either way, I’m very keen to hear your experience of it.

Over and out.