Matt Niblock - Product designer, street photographer, tech geek, and human.


My place for general ramblings and ideas.

What RSS told me about myself

For years my way of consuming daily news was though subscribing to RSS feeds. A habit that seems to be heard of less and less these days.

For any of the uninitiated out there who use Snapchat stories or the like for Daily Mail and Buzzfeed updates, RSS (Rich Site Summary) is essentially an XML formatted plain text feed that is syndicated when blog posts or news articles are published on a website.

The real magic happens when you subscribe to these feeds through an RSS aggregator, my favourite being Reeder for Mac and iOS. These types of apps aggregate your feeds and interpret the XML file to represent the content in a standardised way that’s governed by the app itself, ensuring quick, stripped-down access to various content.

With the explainer out of the way, what did I learn about myself from this primitive (in terms of web) format?

The Hipster

I opened with the assumption that not many Normies would know or remember what RSS actually is, and that’s where I begin. I call it the vinyl effect. It’s the thought that there’s an older technology that offers a more stripped down and raw version of what people have today.

The reliability of how RSS works together with the maturity of the apps that aggregate the content feels like this older system is more pure in the same way audiophiles gravitate to the analogue warmth of vinyl records. RSS is the vinyl of digital content, and I’m the guy who flicks through the RSS feeds like hipster in a record store. When the masses come back to RSS in years from now, I can say I never left and was a longtime purist.


The Hoarder

When you subscribe to an RSS feed you never miss a post. Ever.

Everything published by the sites you subscribe to is collected in your aggregator and if not acted upon, will remain there for the foreseeable future. Maybe you have a setting that automatically marks the item read or removes it from your feed after a certain amount of time, however that’s not me. I have every single post sitting in Reeder, staring at me.

But with hoarding comes great anxiety. My subconscious mind has become trained to knowing my RSS feed isn't completely read and single articles can remain at the bottom of the pile for months without attention. As the days go on the anxiety grows, along with the list of unread articles, but heaven forbid I swipe them into oblivion. They were there for a reason.

After a while what I end up with is a digital garage full of dusty old long-form articles hidden underneath a stack of newer ones. One day I’ll be able to show my kids all the rare collectibles that I never touched and they can read about how there was once a time when we had to use our hands to hold our devices rather than have the news transmitted directly to our brains.


The Illusionist

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist" - Roger "Verbal" Kint.


Occasionally the hoarding scenario gets too much and I zero-in on an appealing article which offsets persistent red badge anxiety. That’s when I invoke my inner David Copperfield, wave my splayed-out hands, and with one click of a Safari bookmarklet, a digital slight of hand tricks my own psyche into believing I’m at absolute zero. Truth be told, one peek behind the wizard’s curtain reveals an Instapaper account brimming with articles from the beginning of time itself.

The Realist

After years of deliberation I’ve come to the realisation that maybe RSS isn’t for me anymore. As much as I’ve formed a strong bond through routine, of late I don’t think it’s allowed me to be my best, most optimal self.

Clinging onto RSS is becoming a time-suck for me by spending more time triaging posts than actually reading them, and for what? For being able to say I use a classic system of syndication that normal people just don’t get? To be a completist and say I’ve read (or at least skimmed) every post ever published by my favourite websites? Well no more. It’s time to move on and surrender to AI. Time to break the bindings of self-curated feeds from a narrow scope of publications and widen my field of view to allow for more organic sources; ones that I’m not so precious about letting go.

To curate is to sacrifice, and in the case of RSS feeds that sacrifice is time. Time I’d rather spend elsewhere, like writing for example. So it’s with a heavy heart but weightless shoulders that I venture into the nexus of smartly-served articles curated by bots born of clever engineers, and trust in them to redefine both my reading habits and my acquiescent personality.

(Disclaimer: I will still keep Reeder on my devices in case a killer update drops that changes the game again)

OpinionMatt Niblockopinion, rss, blog