RSS feeds and email newsletters are powerful tools for staying on top of the latest information, but they’re also easy to miss. Here’s how you can maximize your knowledge with RSS and email while minimizing time spent scanning these resources.
RSS feeds are one of the easiest ways to stay up-to-date with what is going on in your favorite topics. They are also a great way to keep up with email newsletters, which can be found at any number of websites. Read more in detail here: rss feed example.
On July 1, 2013, the way I absorbed information online changed dramatically. Prior to that day, I was a regular reader of Google Reader. Because Google Reader was discontinued on July 1, I stopped using it.
Google Reader was an RSS feed aggregator for those who don’t remember it.
For those unfamiliar with RSS, it stands for “very simple syndication.”
RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a kind of web feed that enables you to read content from a website without having to visit it. You may not know it, but RSS feeds power a large portion of the internet. If you subscribe to the AoM podcast on iTunes or Spotify, for example, iTunes and Spotify use the RSS feed for my podcast to access it on their platforms.
Many individuals used to follow a website’s RSS feed to remain up to speed on their newest content back in the 2000s, before Twitter was much of a thing and before Facebook was utilized as a publishing platform. You might use an RSS feed aggregator, such as Google Reader, to combine all of your favorite websites’ feeds so you could read them all in one location. It was like having your own personal newspaper delivered to your door every day. It was fantastic!
However, I quit reading RSS feeds once Google Reader was shut down. Other feed aggregators existed, but they weren’t as user-friendly as Google Reader.
So I began obtaining my internet information the same way most people do these days: via Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms.
It wasn’t too horrible at first. But then I saw that I wasn’t getting all of the information from the Facebook sites I was following. Facebook, it turns out, changed their News Stream algorithm so that only the stuff Facebook felt you’d be most interested in appeared in your feed. Facebook stated they were only attempting to assist consumers in sorting through the deluge of information being thrown at them. Critics said that Facebook was only attempting to keep users interested on the platform because it earns money. And that they were attempting to compel sites to pay for their material to appear in News Feeds where it had previously appeared naturally. I was simply irritated that I wasn’t receiving all of the updates from Facebook sites that I had specifically chosen to get.
Twitter’s algorithm was tweaked to push messages to the front of your timeline depending on what they felt you’d be interested in seeing. Twitter stated once again that they were attempting to be helpful. Critics said it was really a ruse to get people to connect with and spend more time on Twitter (which makes Twitter more money). I was irritated that some algorithm determined what I saw.
Apart from resenting the idea that an automated computer program was influencing what I paid attention to in order to earn a multinational business more money, I began to dislike another component of reading social media content: the social aspect.
Before I clicked on a link from Facebook to an item that seemed intriguing to me, a slew of internet randos leaped out of the screen, delivering a frequently ill-informed hot take based only on the title; they hadn’t read the post. On Twitter, it’s the same. Before I had a chance to read the article and establish my own perspective, I was presented with other people’s views on it.
Aside from comments, there are additional social media signals that might influence what you perceive of something: likes, RTs, faves, and hearts.
And, as Digital Minimalism author Cal Newport points out, a lot of these “one-bit indications” (as he refers to them) are generated by bots. It’s not from real folks. A large portion of social media is fraudulent. Hype.
“You shouldn’t accept the hype,” said my boyhood sports idol Frank Thomas.
So, over the last several years, I’ve gradually withdrawn from social media’s hype engine in my personal life. I quit reading Twitter last year and canceled my personal Facebook account a few years ago. My personal Instagram account has been inactive for quite some time. (I’ve been steering AoM away from social media as well: we’ve ceased monitoring and sharing material on Facebook, automate 99 percent of our Twitter posts, and only use Instagram on occasion.)
I’ve gone back to utilizing tools from 2008 to keep up with the things that interest me: RSS and email. I’ve gone back to utilizing an online RSS aggregator to keep up with my favorite websites, and I’ve also signed up for a few email newsletters from organizations and people that provide content I love reading.
My information consumption has gotten away from the algorithm, and it feels great. My life has improved greatly in various ways since I stopped using social media to receive my information and instead relied on these two pre-social media technologies:
I only see what I want to see. Marginal Revolution, written by economist (and AoM podcast guest) Tyler Cowen, is one of my favorite blogs. There’s a fair possibility I wouldn’t see all of Marginal Revolution’s updates if I followed them on Facebook. But, since I subscribe to Marginal Revolution through RSS, I never miss an update.
Is it true that I’m interested in whatever Marginal Revolution produces? Of course not, but instead of some silly social media algorithm predicting whether or not I’ll be interested in a piece of material, I get to choose whether or not I am. It feels good to have total control over my media intake once again.
I no longer look at other people’s reactions to information before I consume it. You only view the material when you subscribe to a site’s RSS feed. That is all there is to it. That item has received 0 comments or social media responses. Instead of being influenced by the opinion of some random online stranger, I read something absolutely unfiltered and come to my own judgments.
Self-reliance may be practiced by reading articles without the social media criticism. Instead than depending on others to assist you figure out what you believe about something, you are given the opportunity to do it on your own. You’re in command, and it feels nice to be in charge of your own thoughts.
I don’t spend as much time online as I used to. John Zeratsky, a guest on the AoM podcast, refers to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as “infinity pools.” They’re applications that have no “end” since the material is constantly renewed. You may use Twitter to follow a “thought leader” you like, but in addition to what he says, you’ll see all of the comments his followers leave on his tweets. Twitter is constantly updated with fresh information and opinion, which appeals to our brains’ drive for novelty and makes the network very enticing to revisit. On social media, you’re never done reading.
I’ve noticed that I’m spending less time online now that I only consume material through RSS or email. In the morning and evening, I check my RSS feeds. That is all there is to it. There’s no motivation to keep going back to see what other people had to say since RSS feeds don’t provide social commentary. You just read the article and are finished. It has a certain finitude about it.
I can sleep better at night knowing that social media firms have less information about me. Although social media firms do not charge for their services, this does not imply that they are “free.” Instead of transferring money, you pass up a slew of personal and confidential data about yourself, allowing social media businesses to sell advertising based on your profile.
Furthermore, many firms (especially Facebook) have a poor track record of protecting your personal information.
His seclusion is treasured by the rough, independent, stay-out-of-my-business part of myself. I like it if other individuals or corporations are unaware of all that is going on in my life. While I’ll never be able to totally erase my digital footprint, I can drastically reduce it by limiting my social media use.
I’m much happy now. One thing I’ve discovered is that when I don’t use social media, I simply feel better. There are a few of things going on there, in my opinion.
First, I have more time to do activities I like in real life since I spend less time online.
Second, most social media opinion is negative because negativity attracts attention, and attention is the currency of the internet. I don’t expose myself to all of the negativity that plagues social media since I don’t see the thoughts of the majority on RSS or email. I’ve observed that the less I’m exposed to the low-grade fever of rage that grows online, the less irritated I am.
Third, what your brain deems essential might be skewed by social media. When I was a Twitter addict, I had the impression that all of the discussion and disputes were quite relevant. It had to be significant if everyone on Twitter was talking about it, right?
Not at all.
Taking a step back from Twitter has taught me that what seems significant on Twitter isn’t always that important in “flesh space.” I’ve had individuals tell me about Twitter scandals, and if it hadn’t been for them, I wouldn’t have known anything about them. When I didn’t know about them, my life went on as usual, and when I did hear about them secondhand, my life went on as usual.
My brain’s bandwidth is no longer congested with all that fake-important social media trash now that I’m off of it. My concentration is on the things that matter most to me: family, friends, health, spirituality, and, of course, barbell training.
According to research, if you quit using social media, you’ll be happy. Who doesn’t want to be in a better mood?
How to Get Away from the Algorithm
Outside of the social media algorithm, life is wonderful. At least, it is for me.
Perhaps you’ll appreciate it as well.
If you’re searching for a way to go around the algorithm, I’ve included a couple options below:
To consume material, use RSS feeds. Several RSS feed aggregators have emerged on the market in recent years that are excellent alternatives to Google Reader. With a few minor exceptions, they all function in the same manner. Find one that suits your needs.
- Feedly. This is the method I use. They provide both a free and a premium edition.
- The Veteran Reader
- Inoreader. Inoreader is more visually appealing. It’s similar to Flipboard.
On Feedly, I subscribe to the following blogs and websites:
- Revolution on the fringes. Tyler Cowen, one of my favorite authors, has a blog that I follow. Tyler discusses his views on economics and how it relates to culture. His regular roundup of interesting links is one of my favorites. It’s led me down some surprising online pathways.
- Returns from the Abnormal. Because the creator, Tadas Viskanta, often connects to AoM in his daily link round-ups, I came upon this finance/investing site. Another site with a wide range of intriguing and unusual information on money, investment, psychology, and business.
- Newport, Cal. Cal’s blog has been one of my favorites for nearly a decade. I began following him in law school due of his study recommendations, but I kept up with him as his Deep Work and Digital Minimalism concepts matured. Cal continues to expand on the concepts he examined in his books on his blog. Always foresighted.
- Pickings from the Mind. Maria Popova is an expert in the art of living a happy life. She reads extensively and distills the wisdom of renowned scientists, authors, philosophers, artists, politicians, and theologians. I’m always startled by what shows up in my Brain Pickings feed.
- Farnam Street is a street in Farnam, New South Wales, Shane Parrish, the proprietor of Farnam Street, has been a guest on the AoM Podcast. I’m not sure how I came upon his site, but Farnam Street has been in my reader for a long time. Shane provides a mental model each week to help readers think about life more clearly.
- Kottke. Jason Kottke is a blogger from a bygone era. He’s been doing it for a long time. He highlights strange, but often intriguing, things he discovers on the internet every day. I still appreciate getting his tidbits.
You may join 163k others who subscribe to AoM through RSS: Here’s a link to our RSS feed. We publish the complete text of our articles in our RSS feed, so you can read all of our material in your RSS reader without having to visit our website. And, yeah, it’s completely free.
Subscribe to email newsletters. A well-crafted and curated email newsletter is one of my favorites. I can read a newsletter whenever I want and come back to it if I need to. I subscribe to the following newsletters (all of which are free!):
- Kyle’s Files are a collection of documents created by Kyle. Kyle Eschenroeder, a contributor to AoM and author of The Pocket Guide to Action, gathers passages from books he’s been reading as well as fascinating pieces he discovers on the internet. Thanks to his email, I’ve found a lot of interesting quotations, books, and thoughts. One of my favorite aspects about Kyle’s Files is that there is no predetermined timetable. When he has anything to say, he sends out a message. It’s a joy to see the schedule come up in my email since it’s so unpredictable.
- The Reading List of Ryan Holiday. Writer Ryan Holiday publishes a list of novels he’s been reading and his thoughts on them once a month. Thanks to his recommendations, I’ve found a number of excellent books.
- The Hustle is a daily email that covers the latest business news in a lighthearted and entertaining manner. On Sundays, they take in-depth looks at important business themes like Sharper Image’s growth and collapse.
- What Should I Read Next? Jeremy Anderberg, AoM podcast producer and managing editor, sends out a weekly email with a list of things he’s been reading recently. What I enjoy about Jeremy’s newsletter is that he often mentions fiction, something you don’t usually see in book lists or emails.
- Logic of the Barbell Fahve Friday. Matt Reynolds, my barbell coach and the head of Starting Strength’s online coaching, publishes a weekly message called Friday Fahve (the “Fahve” comes from how Mark Rippetoe, the company’s creator, pronounces the number 5 — as in “Do fahve repetitions!”). For barbell training, there’s a lot of good information on strength training, diet, and mentality.
Two email newsletters are available from The Art of Manliness:
- Every day, you will get a newsletter. Our daily email, which is sent out every morning at 6 a.m. CT, comprises the complete text of the article/podcast show notes that we published the day before.
- Weekly summary Our weekly digest, which is sent out every Sunday morning, includes links to all of the articles and podcasts that we produced that week, allowing you to pick and choose the ones you want to read.
Observations about our newsletter: 1) it’s free; 2) we’ve never sold or will ever sell our email list to advertisers wanting to SPAM people; and 3) if you haven’t opened an email in six months, your email address will be removed from our database.
Here is where you may sign up for the newsletter.
Dedicated/news reader/messaging applications should be used. If RSS and email aren’t your thing, you can still keep up with certain sites through specialized applications (AoM has one), news reader apps like Apple News or Flipboard (AoM is on both), or messaging apps (Telegram, Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.; you can follow AoM this way too). With these alternatives, you may get website information straight on your phone, without having to rely on an algorithm or online strangers to filter it for you. When you get material through text, it’s simple to share and debate with your friends – even if you just have a small social network.
Getting Rid of the Training Wheels When It Comes to Internet Browsing
Cal Newport noted a contrast between the social internet (“the concept that you can utilize the internet to interact with others, express yourself, and find fascinating information”) and social media in my audio discussion regarding the ideology of “digital minimalism” (platforms that present and curate online content). While Newport supports the former, he is “not a supporter of this concept that we need to centralize the social internet inside the walls of these large, private companies”:
That’s when the issues start to arise. When large corporations like Facebook say, ‘Hey, take a look.’ You’re all too stupid to appreciate the social web. You can’t handle it because it’s too complex. We’ll build a more user-friendly version of it. We need everyone to join up for our simplified version of the internet, but we’ll offer you a nice interface.
‘You don’t have to go out and find anything; we’ll simply show you around.’ We’ll keep an eye on you to see what you enjoy. You may just sit like the characters on the spacecraft in the Pixar film Wall-E. Simply sit there and we’ll feed you stuff that will make you happy and that you will like. Don’t be concerned. You can’t go out there and interact with the internet because it’s too tough.’ This process of consolidating the social internet, which is wild, decentralized, beautiful, and disruptive, and something I like, into a tiny number of private firms. That is where all of the issues arise.
Almost everyone’s dissatisfaction with social media now stems from our belief that the social internet must be hosted on the private servers of two or three firms. The social internet appeals to me. I’m not a big fan of social media. I believe you can discover intriguing stuff if you leave the social media walled garden and go out into the wild web. You can make connections with individuals who are intriguing to you. You might express yourself in fascinating ways in a manner that is just so much healthier because you don’t have these algorithmic forces trying to drive you into crazy extremes, or soothe you, or get you agitated, or get you mollified, or whatever it is that these private firms need to bring revenue up.
It’s such a great experience when you return to the wild social internet. This is one of the reasons I’ve been a blogger for so long. I believe that the blogosphere, however strange and difficult to traverse, is a much superior reservoir of expression and knowledge than, say, Facebook or Twitter.
Facebook wants us to believe it’s essential. I believe it is more akin to AOL in the 1990s. It was the internet with training wheels for folks who had never used a web browser before.
Facebook is just the social internet with training wheels for individuals who don’t want to go out and investigate real websites, other protocols, and more peer-to-peer-type things.
Algorithms govern what you see, and algorithms build your reality because what you pay attention to becomes your reality. Abandon the algorithm, escape social media, remove the training wheels from your online material intake, and ride it in a more direct, autonomous, free fashion if you want to design your own reality rather than having it programmed by corporate computer code.
Also, check out our digital minimalism podcast with Cal Newport:
RSS feeds are a great way to stay up-to-date on the latest news without having to constantly check social media. Email newsletters are also a good way to stay in touch with what’s going on in your industry. Reference: google rss feed.
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