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We Don’t Love RSS Enough

If you’re reading this, you probably do, but someone you send this to might not. There are many compelling reasons to use RSS which is a permission-less open protocol for sharing multimedia. RSS is a phenomenally powerful extension of the basic web that can enable a much more democratized and honest media landscape. Adoption been on an incredible upswing since more people have decided to run their own independent web sites. The indieweb is a treasure-trove of people taking the time to save the web by contributing to it.

It might shock you to realize that: not only is that RSS is an old solution to many of our current-day problems, many advocates for it have been unknowingly sabotaging it! If you’re already sold on RSS and want to learn what anyone can do to resolve this you can skip ahead to that section.

Why RSS is better than social media

Chuck Carroll

While I agree with these basic points, I can imagine situations where there could be exceptions. Your RSS experience is entirely related to how much effort one puts in to discovering, curating, and ultimately engaging with the medium.

RSS is Powerful

If they’re familiar with it at all, many people associate RSS with news. Due to the ability to link any content, or even embed audio/video, the possibilities are much grander. People may be familiar with podcasts, but it is all too easy to forget they’re simply RSS feeds with a media attachment, that can be either audio or video. In addition to this, it’s very fast, since a feed is usually just a simple text file, there’s very little processing needed to share and distribute.

What makes RSS so incredibly useful is that it’s machine-readable, this means that not only can programs interact with it, but it’s relatively simple to build new software to build on top of it. The possibilities are endless. For example, suppose you never really cared about browsing the web for feeds, and sorting through posts. Running your own software providing a web crawler, index, and suggestion algorithm based off your own preferences is very achievable.

RSS is actually decentralized

Fake decentralization is becoming it’s own niche industry. Too many would rather build a giant bloated mess of a one-size-fits all solution, instead of something small and flexible. With a focus on being a simple standard format, RSS is a lot more accessible than almost anything else on the internet. RSS is easier to learn than HTML, once you’ve familiarized yourself with a basic example, you’re ready to start sharing your own content. Being perfectly decentralized, there’s no token to use, or central server to check in with.

RSS works in every situation where you have an http connection. This could be over the web, darknets like Tor or I2P, or even through the airwaves with a packet radio. It’s simplicity allows for much more flexibility and there are no limitations or assumptions. You can even use RSS feeds entirely offline as a way to organize playlists of various forms of media. Once you’ve done that, you still have the option of eventually serving the feed to others in a wide variety of ways. Archiving RSS is absolutely trivial. If the feed is of blog posts and articles, you can simply save the rss file itself. Even the multimedia can be downloaded for offline use, and distributed over other mediums.

If it’s so great, why hasn’t it been adopted more?

When people open a link, they expect it to do something. This creates a small problem when someone who has never used RSS encounters it. They’re greeted with either:

This is not what people have been trained to expect when they open a link. On desktops or mobiles, the expectation is that if the link isn’t a web page, a program opens the file or media directly, sometimes opening a specific app. This leads people to confusion, disappointment, and frustration. A large majority of people at this point will simply move on with their day, only to discover much later what they’ve been missing out on.

Libre Solutions Network RSS Feed

Taking adoption to the next level

Unfortunately, this means that many of us have been unknowingly serving RSS all wrong. Basic text or html is perfectly presentable without any styling at all. This unfortunately doesn’t apply to RSS feeds. I had assumed, like many others presumably, that this was just what we were stuck with. While doing my regular round of bookmarking new sites and subscribing to their feeds, I discovered that there was a solution all along!

Styling your RSS feed

Remember that RSS is actually XML, which is the eXtensible Markup Language. Meaning that it’s a data format that’s designed to be extended for particular uses. RSS feeds are just one of many. A website is HTML, which is the HyperText Markup Language for sharing hypertext. (Text that links to other text) What I recently learned thanks to Sacha Chua, is that XML, including RSS feeds can be styled just like a web page.

This sounds simple and inconsequential but I assure you this is incredibly profound. With a relatively small amount of effort we can truly make RSS feeds feel part of the web. This solves a major user experience problem for those without RSS, and has no impact on those who do use it already. As an example, I’ve updated my personal blog’s feed. You’ll notice that link works in your browser, and you’re greeted with a simple page explaining how you can get started with RSS and links to learn more. With more time, there’s aot that could be done to make this very accessible for those who aren’t tech savvy at all. If you serve an RSS feed that you share regularly or link to, please seriously consider making your own style.


Believe it or not, you don’t have to be a content creator yourself to make a useful RSS feed. Instead of maintaining a large multimedia project, you could simply run a simple feed that includes some of the most important or insightful news and media. This is something very within reach for somebody to learn by hand, and it would have the advantage of being an un-censorable index of information, or even just entertainment.

Speaking of entertainment, RSS feeds can be an excellent way to share curated media. A notable podcast, The Bible in a Year is an excellent example of how long-form content can be set up to be taken in over longer periods of time. With your own private feed setup, it would be a very efficient way to queue up particular syllabuses of information to digest whenever you have moments to give it time. This works very well because many podcast apps save your place so you can always continue where you left off. Even for purely informational purposes, it can be useful to have a specific feed for a specific niche. It could be about an event in history, updates about a precise topic, or even a focused lecture series.

In a world where the free and open web is more embraced, TikTok would be unable to compete with personally curated collections of wholesome, informative, or otherwise nurturing media without the risks of censorship, surveillance, or addiction. This could open up a world of new possibilities for those who wish to create authentic art without being manipulated by their reach being controlled.


Due to being machine-readable, RSS feeds are able to be easily and even automatically aggregated into new feeds. This allows for a group of people who contribute less often to provide a steady stream of media together. One of my personal favorite aggregated feeds is Planet KDE, which aggregates posts for the wider KDE community. (KDE is the linux desktop environment I run, and enjoy a great deal) There are other “planets” for other communities within the linux space such as GNOME, GNU and Debian. It would be wonderful if people were inspired to create new planets (aggregated feeds) for non-technical communities.

Sharing Subscriptions

Many feed readers support exporting your subscriptions to an OPML file. This is a list of feeds that can be easily imported into similar software, or shared with others. The best way to help democratize information and media would be to share your own hand-picked feeds with a friend or loved one. This can be done without the Internet, and would be effectively impossible to censor. Community groups working together could share their own aggregated feed with their members, providing a resilient fast notification system that can be used for a variety of situations.

Extending it

Static websites and RSS feeds have a major game-changing advantage for information resilience: they’re just data. This data can be extended for a variety of purposes. The podcasting 2.0 initiative is all about adding more functionality for podcast apps without sacrificing decentralization. All it takes is a widely accepted namespace, which is a fancy word for standard. Podcasting 2.0 adds new features like chapters, funding links, and transcripts that can be used by new or recently updated podcast applications.

Build Software for RSS

As I’ve alluded to before, there are many applications waiting to be written to leverage the benefits of RSS feeds even further. Lowering the barrier to participation can help adoption significantly, and new software can allow us to leverage the best of our modern systems with the full benefits of the old web.

  1. Accessible tooling

    Static site generators are awesome, but it would be great to have an accessible feed generator that allows for non-technical people to create feeds with an intuitive application. The feed generator could have plug-ins to automatically integrate with a variety of web-hosts to make going online significantly easier.

  2. New media

    There’s opportunity to leverage completely different multimedia beyond just news and podcasts. RSS feeds support anything you can link to, so other opportunities like announcements, surveys, or even VR experiences are all possibilities. There is a great deal of software that quietly supports them, that can be used in interesting ways. For example, PeerTube supports RSS feeds for channels. This means that even without using the Fediverse, or even PeerTube itself, you can use a podcast app to have your own independent media experience. Antennapod is excellent for this.

  3. Enhancing the ecosystem

    Some very low-hanging fruit would be updating existing RSS feeds to have a helpful style where they don’t at the moment. By enhancing discovery, indexing, ranking and aggregation features, there is a phenomenal amount of opportunity left yet untapped.

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