By Andy Valencia
The world is coming for you, no invitation needed. Your phone rings, a notification chimes, a spam pops into your inbox. For every time your phone rings and it’s a loved one, there are many more selling you extended warranties or potency pills. We give them their very own words, like “spammer” and “telemarketer.”
When you choose to go get something, you have a little more control. You go to the market and buy some meat. You log onto Facebook and see what’s new. You cruise YouTube to view videos. You choose when it starts; you choose when it stops again.
Of course, when you do choose to visit YouTube or Facebook, you’re going to see a lot more than what you asked for. It seems like an ever-growing wave of ads. Is it your imagination? I could do an article on the subject, but the short answer is: No. It’s never enough ads.
It’s time to fight back, using a technology that “pulls” only what you want, directly from the content creator. It’s been around for decades, and yet it’s probably new to you: Real Simple Syndication – “RSS.” RSS is a communication that happens between your computer and the internet server of a particular blogger or podcaster. Your computer connects to their server’s RSS and receives the name of the show, along with a list of episodes, newest first.
Like your voluntary trip to the store, RSS only pulls from the shows YOU have chosen. With email subscriptions, you have to jump through hoops to please make them stop. With RSS, as soon as you tell it a show’s off the list, it stops checking it for new episodes. Boom, it’s gone.
Each episode has a name, date, and a URL for the actual content. If that URL points to text, then this is a blog. If it points to an mp3, then it is a podcast. To read blogs, you use a feed reader. For podcasts, you use a podcatcher. RSS is the common engine powering both. What’s available for your device? Search for “RSS reader” in your app store.
Now you need to teach your feed reader about the blogs you like. With your web browser pointed at a favorite blog, look for this symbol somewhere on the page (usually at the top or bottom):
If you don’t see the symbol, a search might give you a list of RSS feeds. For example, “BBC RSS feeds” takes you to the BBC’s directory of their many feeds, each tailored to a particular type of news. “New York Times RSS feeds” works just as well.
Usually, clicking on the feed will hand it over to your feed reader, automatically subscribing you. If that doesn’t work for you, instead right click on the feed, and “Copy Link.” Then, switch to your feed reader app and tell it to create a new subscription. Paste in that RSS URL.
Once you start looking for it, you’ll find RSS lurking all over the internet. Fourty-three percent of web content is powered by WordPress, which automatically provides an RSS feed of its content. Vashonloop.com is a WordPress site! Since popular substack.com also provides RSS, more than half of all blog content on the internet is available via an RSS subscription.
You don’t need to search for the RSS feed of any Substack author, because they’ve standardized the RSS feed location. For any name.substack.com, the RSS feed is name.substack.com/feed.
Podcasts are even easier to consume via RSS, since there’s a free and open podcast directory that many podcatcher apps use. Go to podcastindex.org/apps/ to see a list of free apps for navigating the world of podcasts – you may need to try an app or two before you find one you like, but there are many. Within the app, search for a name or subject, then click a podcast and listen to some episodes. Whenever you find one with great content, click its “Subscribe” button.
It’s just the podcaster’s recording straight into your headphones by way of your own personal podcatcher. RSS is powering it, but that’s a well-hidden technical detail.
The internet has become increasingly a corporate-centric experience. These corporations serve you “For free,” but the reality is you pay by being measured, monitored, advertised to, and manipulated. To pay the bills, how will they use you next? Sidestep them when you can. RSS makes it possible.