Unstructured Feeds are SO Much Better Than Karma Systems
Or, why RSS is still relevant in 2021
I’d like to preface this by saying, this is what works for me. I’m not trying to make any broad claims about how terrible your doomscroll inducing social media feed1 is, just that these small changes I’ve found have had a noticeable impact on my day-to-day browsing habits.
Instead, I replaced them with a hosted RSS feed aggregator called Miniflux. This isn’t the first time I’ve attempted to use an RSS aggregator to manage my news feed, but it is the first that that it’s stuck. The UI is clean, usable, and concise and has support for external clients via the (now aging) Fever API. The external client support allows me to use the Reeder app on my phone, should I need to (which isn’t very often these days). Perhaps controversial, but despite being free and Open Source I opted to pay for the hosted version of Miniflux. The developer of Miniflux chooses to do something that I’d like to see more from small open source projects: offer reasonably priced hosting (when applicable and feasible) for their software.
At $15/year, the price is well within reason, and it saves me the headache of setting up yet another PostgreSQL instance all while giving some (albeit, small) support to the developer.
Sometimes More is Less
What I found most surprising about switching to a RSS-based news feed was that I notice more news/articles/posts than before. As someone who takes care to maintain inbox zero as much as reasonable, I like to keep the
Unread section of my news feed clean. This means that whenever I check my feed, I generally parse through the titles of each article and decide whether I’m actually interested in reading or not, and mark it as read if I’m not, or click into it if I am2. This process is faster than going to the each individual site and parsing through whatever happens to be on the front page at the time. Another nice property of this is that I don’t have to do this multiple times for the same article, each one shows up in my feed once and only once 3. This feeds into another key benefit: being able to keep up to date on more niche and obscure blogs.
The Give and Take of Karma
Upvote, downvote, star, flag, bookmark, heart, like. Karma systems are a means of crowdsourcing the aggregation and filtering of content. While it’s pretty effective at filtering down 4 content, the bias and distraction introduced by the score and comment counts aren’t really worth it in my opinion. Now, to be clear, karma systems still have an important role and I still use them indirectly. Because of this, I end up dropping into comments less (despite being just as easy in Miniflux). It overall helps alleviate some distraction in my day, and keeps me more focused on the things I actually care about.
Unfortunately, it seems RSS (and Atom) have started to fall out of favor. One of my favorite news sites, Reuters, killed their RSS feeds sometime last year; and I still haven’t found a reliable and trustworthy way to get my Reddit feed into RSS 5. Despite this, I a good chunk of blogs and podcast sites still support it, including some other sites that I didn’t expect such as Nebula.
Yes, this isn’t really about feeds necessarily, at least not in the Twitter/Facebook/Instagram sense↩︎
Sometimes I’ll leave articles in my unread if I don’t have time to read them immediately, but generally my inbox is cleared by the end of the day↩︎
Excluding articles posted to multiple of my feed sources, or posted multiples times to each source↩︎
to the most controverial, clickbatey↩︎
I’m not really looking for one either, Reddit is more for memes. Don’t @ me↩︎