Introducing, a Getting Started guide for web feeds and RSS

14.27, Wednesday 12 Aug 2020

There’s a better way to read websites and it’s called web feeds a.k.a RSS. But web feeds are hard to get into for new users, so I decided to do something about it.

I posted about suggested improvements to RSS the other day and top of my list was onboarding: If you don’t know what RSS is, it’s really hard to start using it. This is because, unlike a social media platform, it doesn’t have a homepage. Nobody owns it. It’s nobody’s job to explain it. I’d like to see a website … which explains RSS, feeds, and readers for a general audience.

So because it’s no-one’s job, and in the spirit of do-ocracy:

I built that website.

Or to slightly abuse a phrase, Be the change that you wish to see in the world wide web.

Introducing About Feeds is a single page website, for linking wherever you keep your web feed.

If you go to the homepage of this very blog you’ll see a header on the left that says “GET LATEST POSTS”. Next to that is a link that says “FEED.” As we all know, that link is broken unless you have a newsreader app installed. And so next it is a new link that says: HELP! WHAT IS A FEED?

About Feeds is written for a general audience. The sections are:

  • A short intro
  • What is a feed? (a.k.a RSS.) - overview and benefits
  • How do I get a newsreader app? - with suggested apps
  • How do I use my new newsreader app to subscribe to a feed? - instructions!

I’ve adopted the word “feed” (or “web feed”) and said that “RSS” is the technical name for it. I want to balance being informative yet approachable.

As I say on the site:

My hope is that About Feeds can become the default “Help! What is this?” link next to every web feed icon on the web. It’s bare bones right now, and I have a ton of ideas of how to make this site more and more useful.

If you have feedback/ideas, the About Feeds repo on GitHub is the right place to start a discussion. It’s a work in progress.

Do you write a blog or run a site with a web feed?

Please consider adding a Help! What is this? link (or similar) next to your feed link or RSS icon.

Big up the RSS massive

For us bloggers and site owners, RSS is important because it’s the how we keep the indie web work healthy. Feeds make a level playing field for brand new blogs and the New York Times alike. It’s our direct route to readers, without making them give up their email address or personal data. And it’s our hedge against Facebook and the social media silos which make you pay for access as soon as you get popular.

For users, RSS puts you in control. You see all the content, and if you don’t like a feed you can unsubscribe. It doesn’t clutter up your inbox. Opening your newsreader is 100x a better way to spend your time than doomscrolling on Twitter. It’s a pleasant reading experience.

So I think web feeds are worth fighting for.

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