Is RSS Still A Useful Way To Keep Up With Technology?

Paul Boag recently shared some thoughts in a brief video about keeping up with technology. Paul always has interesting things to say and this video was no different. In it he mentions rss feeds as one way people try to keep up and how he now has a different strategy with far less feeds in his reader.

His video reminded me that I’d started writing down some thoughts of my own about rss feeds and it seemed like a good time to turn those thoughts into this post.

Old keys on large keyring.jpg
Image courtesy of Brenda Clarke

Focus on the Key Information

If I had to sum up Paul’s thoughts it would be to focus on the key information and don’t stress about the rest. There’s simply too much information out there to try to keep up with everything so focus on what’s most important.

In about 10 minutes I can scan through the headlines of several hundred feeds and have a pretty good sense of what’s going on

In year’s past, Paul mentioned he was subscribed to hundreds of blogs, but in keeping with the above philosophy he’s now only subscribed to a few larger sites like Smashing Magazine and certain individuals who tend to have the big ideas.

He also relies on those same sites and individuals in a peer recommendation model. He’ll follow their links on Twitter and similar and let them edit all the information for him. When it’s time to learn a broader topic he’ll grab some books and ultimately prefers to get his information in condensed form by going to conferences.

I think the general philosophy is a good one. You aren’t going to keep up with everything so don’t try. Keep up with the things you think most important. I differ somewhat in the way I do this, which is where my thoughts about rss come in.

RSS logo on a pair of baseball caps

RSS as the Modern Newspaper

Before the internet when much of the news I took in during the day came via a daily newspaper, I used to read them something like this.

  • Open to a section of the paper
  • Scan the headlines
  • Read articles with headlines that captured my attention and interest
  • Open to another section of the paper

Rarely did I get through the whole paper. How far I got depended on the particular articles and how much time I had. Like most people I had favorite sections I’d go to first and least favorite sections I never opened.

I go through my feed reader now in a somewhat similar way.

  • Check one category of feeds
  • Scan the headlines
  • Mark most things read without reading
  • Skim articles where I have some interest
  • Save what I want to read in more depth for later
  • Check another category of feeds

The process is a little different, but for the most part I scan most every headline, skim through some articles where I have mild interest, and read through a smaller subset of articles in full.

In about 10 minutes I can scan through the headlines of several hundred feeds and have a pretty good sense of what’s going on in the worlds of web design, marketing, and technology, while leaving a handful of articles for deeper reading later.

Typically I check my feedreader in the morning over coffee, in the afternoon while having lunch, and at night after the work day is done. Early in the day I spend more time scanning and skimming. Later I spend more time skimming and reading.

Naturally the above varies depending on the day, what I have to do, and what headlines pass through my feed reader. I also save longer articles, podcasts, and videos for the weekend when I have more time.

Philosophy Hall, Battery Park City, New York
Philosophy Hall, Battery Park City, New York

Different Ways to Follow the Same Philosophy

I think what I do still follows Paul’s philosophy. I’m not trying to keep up with everything. Scanning headlines allows me to see what the big news of the day is as it usually gets talked about a lot. I can skim a few of the big stories if only to make a mental note about them for the future.

It’s a much smaller amount of article I end up reading and those are often from the same few sites and individuals. It’s similar to what Paul does, though I imagine we each have our preferences for what’s important. The idea is the same. Where Paul lets a few individuals send him to a wider range of stories, I prefer to have more stories come to me and curate the list myself.

While I don’t attend conferences, mostly due to cost and travel time, I do watch as many of the presentations that make it online as I can. Not every one is a gem, but there are some presentations that are worth watching again and again.

stacked and folded newspapers

Customizing the News

Years ago I did try to read everything that came through my feed reader. At the very least I opened every post and skimmed it. That didn’t last long as the list of feeds I subscribed to grew and grew. For a time I was afraid not to subscribe to something new for fear of missing something.

That was silly.

I’m still subscribed to a lot of feeds. More than 500 I think. I don’t read everything that comes through my reader, though. Of the few thousand articles that cross my path each week I might read 100 and many of those not until the weekend.

They’re organized into several categories.

  • Design
  • Development
  • WordPress
  • Marketing
  • Technology

There are also a few random blogs that are top level and not inside any particular category, like blogs from friends.

I do periodically prune the list of feeds. Some blogs I never read and so remove them. Some stopped updating months or years ago. My interests change. At the same time I’m always getting pointed toward new blogs that I subscribe to.

RSS logo drawn in the sand.jpg


I know a lot of people are now bypassing feed readers and getting their information by clicking on links that pass through their Twitter stream or Facebook feed. I prefer to curate the information I consume instead of letting others curate it for me. I’m still interested in what others point me to, but I want to pull in information from a more varied set of sources.

The general philosophy Paul talks about for keeping up with everything is one I completely agree with. Don’t try to keep up with everything. It’s impossible. There’s too much information to try to keep up with. Find some way to ensure the more important information and you connect in some way, whether that means letting a few trusted sources direct you to it or it means bringing a lot of information to you and curating it yourself.

If you take the time to pick and choose your feeds and organize them into various sections you can easily keep up with most of what’s going on in your industry without having to spend too much time consuming it. You’ll also be connected to the information most important and most interesting to you.

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    • You’re probably not as behind as you think. Sure some people have been using a dedicated rss reader for years, but most people still don’t. They might use rss through a browser home page or Facebook, but many probably don’t even realize rss has anything to do with it.

      I hear you about Twitter and fluff. What I really like about an rss reader is being able to curate what comes in so I can better avoid the fluff.

  1. Totally agree with you, Twitter can’t replace RSS feeds. It’s the best way to quickly stay informed and at the same time have bigger articles if you want to focus on something.

  2. I am one of those people who subscribed to a whole bunch of rss feeds back when with Google Reader and used to diligently comb through all the headlines. With the advent of Twitter I found myself getting more and more of my news and breaking events from my Twitter timeline and spent less time on my massive collection of rss feeds.

    Compared to the ease of and rapidity of Twitter keeping up with all the headlines on my rss feed reader became a bit of a drag, so I ditched it.

    • You’re definitely not the only one. I can understand how following links on Twitter can be easier. And it’s not like I don’t follow links there too.

      To me it comes down to who I prefer curating the content I consume. I’d rather do that myself and so I pull a lot into an rss reader and curate. Following Twitter links is a different sort of curation. You choose the people to follow and trust they’ll post good content. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just a different way of getting content. Both have their pros and cons.

      Twitter is certainly much better for breaking news. It’s almost always the first place I look when I think something is happening and I want to know more.

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