Using RSS to ‘Rewild’ What You See

Clive Thompson:

Algorithmically-sorted feeds are good for some things. They let you know what are the big, popular conversations of the day, which is valuable! But if you stare at ’em too much, it’s intellectual monocropping. All you wind up knowing (and thinking about) are the same things everyone else knows and is thinking about.

So it’s also important to rewild your mind — to cultivate your own quirky, overgrown, weedy garden of culture.

I like this analogy.

Thompson advises following lots of sites; I think that is good advice, generally speaking, as there is no cost if you are not a completionist. But the best part of feed readers, I think, is how they reward people for subscribing to websites which are updated infrequently or sporadically. According to Feedbin, which is my preferred subscription backend, I have 210 active subscriptions. That includes an awful lot of newsletters and personal blogs — which are actually the same thing, but I do not think the investors backing Substack have noticed — but it does not include things I would check daily, like major news sites.

One thing you might not be aware of is how many websites offer feeds for specific sections of their site. For example, while I would never follow the New York Times’ homepage in a feed reader, I do subscribe to its Media feed. WordPress-powered sites, meanwhile, sometimes have feeds for specific tags or post categories.

I still think website feeds have something of a branding problem. “RSS” and “feed reader”, despite the former term being an acronym for “really simple syndication”, sound technical and hard to use. It is just as easy to follow a site with a reader as it is on any social media platform. We can and should make this a less scary proposition.