I’ve received a few comments recently regarding the duality of Twitter and RSS feeds. Marco Arment published a great article on this topic in early 2013 that is worth reading. I want to talk about the change in mindset when using RSS appropriately and what it has done to my feeds.
Unread is a new RSS client that forced a trimming down of my RSS subscriptions to a list of individual writers and fewer daily posts. While I still maintain a following of a few writers on both services, I quickly eliminated news sites from my RSS feed. It has been a breath of fresh air.
Despite Unread’s effect on my bloated RSS feed, I had a bigger realization that will turn out to be more profound: I was using the wrong tool for the job. Discovering this is slightly humiliating, especially when RSS and Twitter have been so widely discussed online. But, determining the purpose of RSS and Twitter has helped me to define what types of content should be subscribed to for each service. And I’m surprised as to the results.
Twitter thrives in pushing immediate content to its users. Short bursts of saturated information, piled one after another in an endless river of updates, is the perfect platform for up-to-the-minute breaking news. Much of Twitter’s personality also comes from individual quips and comments regarding that breaking news. A popular news source breaks a story with a link and the following thousand tweets give short bursts of opinion on the story. I bet we have become so accustomed to this behaviour that our scrolling habits naturally scroll from one breaking news tweet to the next, skipping all of the opinionated jibberish in between.
In essence, Twitter is a constantly updated round table discussion — nobody ever discusses their opinion in-depth but adds their two cents here and there. A consequence of that discussion is the inevitable drowning out of some unique, knowledgeable and smart voices. Some of the best arguments are caught in the mix.
RSS, in contrast, reminds me of a scientific debate that takes place between science journal publications. Each writer is allowed to venture deeper into their argument and a retort or response is dealt with some lag time in between. An eager audience can pick these articles up at any point and not live in fear of missing a valuable remark. A single voice is never drowned out — discussions, ideas and debates can be handled more thoroughly, at a slower pace and with 100% inclusion.
You can probably see the foundational difference between RSS and Twitter. Twitter’s immediacy and RSS’s thoroughness automatically render each service as a different tool for consuming valuable online content.
Why, then, was I trying to fit a square peg (RSS) into a round hole (immediate and breaking news updates)? I don’t know why. I really don’t. My “Read-to-Mark-All-As-Read” ratio was a telling sign of my commitment to reading every single 9to5Mac/MacRumors update.
As a result, I have eliminated every single news source in my RSS feed. 9to5Mac, MacRumors, iMore, TUAW and the like now find their proper home in my Twitter feed. My favourite individual writers, like John Gruber, Shawn Blanc, Ben Thompson and Matt Mullenweg now correctly find themselves in a curated RSS feed.
However, I am stuck on a specific type of news source that relays valuable information and is accompanied with a steady helping of interesting links. I’m mostly referring to publications like The Loop. Jim Dalrymple and his crew offer many insightful links throughout the day. Should I place The Loop in my Twitter feed or my RSS feed?
The best part about understanding the differences between RSS and Twitter is that I now have a new mindset in determining my feeds. Once I’ve found a source of consistent interestingness, my question is now “Which feed does this source fit into?” instead of “How do I subscribe to this content so I don’t miss anything?” This mindset is the profound realization I mentioned earlier. It’s not “How?” anymore. It’s “What content?”. Because the content is what it’s all about.
Further, as the Internet grows more accessible for small writers like myself to publish their thoughts, RSS grows infinitely more important. Pulling a small voice out of a crowd of thousands of writers is a saving grace for surviving the early, unpopular times.
Is RSS dead? Not even close. If anything, it’s only beginning to see its potential.
Frankly, this is the best way to handle any argument. Twitter debates can get ferociously violent and the 140 character limit only adds to the impact. ↩