Refreshing my RSS feeds list

Welp, I’ve done it this time. I was fiddling with some settings in my current feed reader of choice – Fiery Feeds – and I hit a sync button that’s meant to download everything from iCloud and rebuild the database. Turns out, iCloud is, as usual, not good at actually saving important data. Part of this is my fault. I have had some 14,000 unread items in there, and about 900 feeds. Sync would often time out and almost never complete.

So I lost all my feeds. As I stared at it dumbly, waiting for the feeds to come back, a calm came over me. This is what inbox zero feels like. When, after multiple forced syncs later, nothing happened, I was relieved.

I thought about it. The last OPML export I have is from December of 2019. I’ve added maybe 20 feeds since then, which are now lost. If I import the OPML, I’ll get back my starred items and general state, but I’ll not get back the calm.

So, I’ve decided to do an overhaul of my feeds. I know a lot of sites I’ve subscribed to either don’t exist any more, or haven’t updated in a while. So it’s time to shed the load.

Working through this large an OPML file is a chore. First, I tried to do it manually. Too much work. Then I tried to find tools to help. I found a six year old github repo to find dead feeds. It found a few, but mostly got it wrong. Instead, I’ve imported the OPML to my Firefox LiveMarks extension. It’s not the perfect solution, but at least I’m able to go through the list faster and cull it satisfactorily.

Other than the feeds that are dead, I’m also striving to shed some weight. At some point, I subbed to some GTD and Productivity feeds. Deleted those. It’s no longer my area of interest. Older still are feeds related to Network Engineering. It’s what my MS is in, but it’s no longer my main area of concern. So I’ve removed those. I’m also removing webcomics that haven’t been updated since mid-2019. There are quite a few of those. Frankly, it’s fine if the authors want to take a break. I, too, don’t update my blog often. But there are other ways for me to discover their content. Tapas and Instagram are doing a good job, so I’m going to lean on those for my comic needs. This doesn’t mean all webcomics are going away from my feeds. On the contrary, I’m keeping most of them, specially long-running stories that I follow keenly, like Gaia comic, and Slack Wyrm. But others are out.

At some point I also subscribed to a lot of programming related blogs. Those are nice navel-gazing, but ultimately worthless to me. I’m not a programmer, I’m a scripter. I’m not into deep programming concepts even on the languages that are my bread, butter, and jam – python and JavaScript. So for me to sub to serious computer scientists and programmers was a mistake then, and is a mistake now. It’s not that I won’t glean something off them, just that I don’t need to, right now.

This is tough work, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Recently, I found out that a friend has a very strict gate on who she follows on Instagram. She has a roster of 99 people and whenever she has to follow someone new, she forces herself to remove one person from the list. I’ve never, ever removed a feed from my list. This is the same list I’ve been carrying around since my first RSS feed reader – Fever – and some items are even carried forward from Google Reader. I’ve always thought that at best, the feeds that die are not much extra weight than some processing cycles, and at worst, the items I don’t read get deleted at the end of my 15 days, one month, two months, 90 days limit. That moving limit is part of the cause of all this trouble I’m in.

But the largest forcing function is my feed reader. Fiery Feeds is an awesome piece of software and Lukas Burgstaller is an exceptional dev, and a highly responsive support person. But I made a conscious choice at one point to move away from all server-side RSS feed services and use Fiery Feeds’ native, on-device accounts. I’m paying for the app because I love and want to support it, so I might as well use the biggest feature Lukas has introduced. But this on-device, synced-via-iCloud system has its drawbacks, and this means that I can’t be an ignorant buffoon about my feeds any more. I have to shed, cull, strip, whatever you want to call it.

One very interesting thing I’ve done over time is to use kill-the-newsletter.com to the best of its abilities. I do not like newsletters, but there’s a LOT of content that’s going to email newsletters exclusively nowadays, and that sucks. Kill The Newsletter converts these emails to RSS feed items. It’s not a perfect solution, specially since it’s a bit of a blackbox, but it works just fine for now and it’s FOSS, so I’m happy. So, these are a guilty pleasure I’m not getting rid of. We’ll see how this decision pans out. Maybe I’ll have to figure out a way to merge all newsletters into one RSS feed. Or use a dedicated app to read newsletters on my iPhone. There are a few of those out there now.

All in all, this is an exercise in refreshing and rethinking what I consume online. Hopefully, it’ll lead to a better feed reading experience for me.

Streaks

If you came here to read about a fitness streak, you’ll be sorely disappointed. I’ve been on a different kind of streak lately – I’ve been reading a lot of RSS feeds. Specifically, I’ve been spending time going through a lot of webcomics.

See, I love reading RSS feeds. I definitely overload every feed reader I’ve used, but none so much as I’ve overloaded my current one – an app on iOS called Fiery Feeds. I have about 16k unread items on here (don’t judge me).

Out of these, about three thousand are webcomics. So I’m starting from there. I pick up an unread feed and blaze through it. Usually, that’s 60-100 items that I end up marking as read in a day. At this rate, I’ll be current in a couple of months. Of course, I’m focusing on webcomics because they’re super easy to read, with not a lot of context needed, and a quick read time.

But that’s not all. Comics are able to portray the ethos of their time very easily. Whether I’m reading a slice of life comic from a few years ago, where the biggest topic was the latest Starbucks winter theme, or I’m reading the latest xkcd, talking, of course, as everyone else is, about COVID-19, it becomes very easy to see the timeline and to consume the news of the day through comics. Of course, I also love reading more serious endeavors like Gaia and Slack Wyrm, which have enduring storylines, recurring characters, and a vein you kinda have to hold on to, preferably by reading from the first comic. These are just plain fun to read and follow along!

While reading may be all fun, I’m sure writing and making webcomics is not. All the hard work of describing the scene, the props, the clothing, is already done by the artist, and I just have to consume all those visuals. Compared to essays, where I have to read through to understand the story from top to bottom, and where my attention is definitely pulled away before I’d like it to, comics are easy to consume, though I’m sure the effort that goes into a good essay is perhaps less than that which goes into a good comic.

Now, once I get done with the comics, I’d like to continue reading my RSS feeds. I follow a lot of personal feeds, mostly from random strangers I’ve encountered online. It feels great to be in a space where I can just read a person’s diary entry, with some of their personal thoughts splashed on the Internet for me to see. Besides the occasional rant, most people put good thoughts on their websites, and it feels great to read those positive thoughts.

One of the reasons these “personals” are easy to read is because, frankly, of twitter. A lot of folks try to cross-post from their blogs to twitter and other microblogging sites. This means they have to stick to a length limit, and most of them try to get done with their thoughts in about 30 words or less. I wouldn’t say that’s the real average, because I’ve never measured. But birdbrained that we are, reading more than those has often ended in my attention getting pulled away, so people who post 30 words or less and express themselves fully still, are aces in my book!

But once I’m done catching up with the personals, of course I’d like to read more serious, longer stuff, which has been piling up. Most of the time, I’ll read a few paragraphs and either abandon the writing for being too dry, or shove it into Instapaper to catch up with it in a few years. My “long articles” section is at about five thousand entries, with writing from AI Weirdness, Linux Journal Blogs, and InkMango, to name a few. One of these days, once my habit is built and my streaks have left me with no webcomics to indulge in, I’ll dive into these heavier writings, and hopefully come out more educated. For now though, laughs are enough!