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Switching back to RSS

4 min read

For the past few years I abandoned RSS in favour of social media, namely Twitter and Facebook. The main reason was because the number of posts to the sites I followed via RSS was simply too much to keep up with. By using social media, I didn’t have an unread count to keep up with. So, I unsubscribed from all the sites I was following and “Liked” or “Followed” them on Facebook and Twitter. I kept a few sites in my RSS reader, smaller blogs and sites I felt I wanted to read every post (Daring Fireball, Stratechery), but for the most part I unsubscribed from everything.

Twitter and Facebook have different strengths and weaknesses for following news.

Twitter lets you see a raw feed of everything as it is happening. This has the benefit of being able to see breaking news as it happens and easily follow along.

Facebook’s algorithmic timeline lets you see things you’re likely to be interested in and/or is getting a lot of engagement. This lets the good stuff bubble to the top.

My main problem with RSS was the volume of stories and the inability to sort the wheat from the chaff. Facebook solves that by showing popular stories through their algorithm while services like Nuzzel can show you the most popular links from your Twitter feed.

Still, I don’t like relying on these third party services to get my news. As apparent from this blog, the IndieWeb has peaked my interest again, and I’m looking to decouple from those social silos a bit. That doesn't mean I'll stop using them, but I don't want to rely on them as much as in the past.

I went back to Feedly to see what was new. I hadn’t stopped using Feedly, I just wasn't using their web interface much. I use Reeder on my Mac and iPhone when I want to read the few RSS feeds to which I am still subscribed.

One thing that appeared new (to me) was the ability to sort by popularity. Feedly will judge a story’s popularity based on (presumably) the number of Feedly users reading it. And the popularity is scaled based on the site’s size, so a story from The Verge won’t be considered popular if it gets 100 views, while a smaller, less trafficked blog would be considered very popular if one of its stories were to get 100 views.

The popularity numbers are then coloured. Here’s how those colours are determined:

Red means that the story is at least 7 times more popular than the average story published by this source. Orange means that the story is at least 3 times more popular than the average story published by this source. Grey is the default color.

So, I started resubscribing to a number of sites, sorting them into various folders just to see what things would look like. The first results weren’t promising. The number of stories was huge and it was difficult to see the popularity numbers.

However, changing the view of the folder pretty much solved the problem. I changed to “Title-only view” and sorted by “Popular + Latest”.

This was the result:

The “Most Popular” section at the top provides a quick look at what stories in the bunch are worth looking at, while in the “Latest” section I can quickly scroll through and look for other stories that are popular.

I’ve only been using this for a couple of days now, but I’m really liking it. I still use Facebook and Twitter, but this gives me another, quick look at the news.