Question

Do you regularly visit a medium to large volume of blogs/sites to see what new articles and content are available? Do you like to save time? Do you like things that are free? If you said yes to these questions than RSS might be for you!

Intro

I am a huge fan of RSS (Rich Site Summary) and have been using it for a long time (since the heyday of Google Reader). Using RSS + an aggregator allows you to pull new content from your favorite places around the web all into a single spot, as soon as this content is available. Rather than manually going to a bunch of different sites to see if there are any new posts, you can have those posts brought to you, all in one place, sorted by site, category, chronologically, you name it!

So how do you get started viewing all your content via RSS feeds? This is where an RSS client comes in. RSS clients take site feeds and present them to you as a simple list of items where each item is typically made up of the article source, article title, a few of the first lines of the article (or article description) and a relative/absolute date stamp (this is illustrated in the image below). This makes it very simple to quickly scroll through all of your posts, new and old. If you see one that is interesting, you can click on it to read more or you can save it for later-reading. If nothing in the feed looks interesting to you after you’ve scrolled through everything, you can mark-all-as-read and be on your way! This makes keeping up with even a large amount of blogs (assuming they aren’t particularly high-volume) a breeze. In fact, I’d say over 90% of the stuff that goes into my feed day-after-day are not things I would read the entire article of. But in this way, I can quickly find what is interesting to me and save it or I can get quick bites of information by simply reading the article titles.

RSS example

My Surprise

Even in it’s “prime”, the use of RSS + an RSS aggregator was probably never what one would consider mainstream. With this said, I was surprised to find that even many of my technologically-savvy and frequent-news-reading family/friends/colleagues do not use an RSS aggregator. Rather, their news consumption was based mostly on things like Twitter, Google News, or… save me… LinkedIn or Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I like Twitter and it definitely has a place in my news-collecting workflow but it has many problems in this respect. One problem with using Twitter for news aggregation is that Twitter is not a news platform, it is a social networking platform. Sure, people post “news”, and they post links to articles from around the web and in this way it can sometimes function like a news aggregator but I have found that in too many cases the personalities I follow (even when carefully curated) can tend to post things that have no place in a news/blog feed (e.g. rants, off-topic items, random pictures, etc…)! Further, Twitter is no replacement for RSS because there is no guarantee that all the blogs/sites you like to read even have a Twitter account. Or let’s assume the sites you like DID have a Twitter account and posted links to new articles to Twitter, there is no guarantee that they won’t go off and post a bunch of non-article related stuff to that Twitter account as well, resulting in a lower fidelity news/article stream. Similarly, social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are no replacements for RSS for the same reason Twitter isn’t.

How to RSS

First things first, let’s get an RSS aggregation service/engine. My RSS aggregation service of choice is Feedly (now that Google Reader is dead). There are other alternatives as well and having not tried any of them, I can’t really say if one is better than the other but Feedly is just the one I landed on after Google Reader’s demise. Creating a Feedly account is free and you can sign up with a login through a number of different services (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Windows Live, Evernote, etc…)

I’ll also mention that I am a subscriber to Feedly’s Pro Service. Though they have a perfectly good Free Tier, I like to use Pro as it gives me additional functionality (e.g. more sources, powerful search and much more) and it’s also just a nice way to support a service that I really enjoy (so it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Google Reader). Feedly Pro also has additional tiers (i.e. Pro+, Business, Enterprise) with even more functionality. Feedly has also recently debuted a new feature called “Feedly for Cybersecurity” which is essentially an Open-Source threat intelligence feed. Though I haven’t tried it myself, this seems like a cool option for those in the market for threat intel!

Once you are signed up and logged in, you can hit the “+ ADD CONTENT” area on the bottom left of the Feedly web-interface and search for sources you are interested in. Feedly does a good job of finding any applicable RSS feeds for the sites you punch in. For those who want extended functionality, Feedly even goes further than RSS - supporting feeds on curated topics and even Google Keyword alerts. Feedly also does a great job at suggesting “similar content”, which allows you to easily expand the sources you follow. Now when you come across interesting sites in the future you can remember to add them here to stay up to date on any new content!

If you’d like to take your news consumption on the go (as I do), there are native mobile apps for RSS such as Feedly’s own Feedly app for the iOS ecosystem or if you’re more of a Googly person, Feedly has you covered there too. I personally like the iOS app Reeder (featured in the screenshot from above).

For those who are interested in the (infosec-specific) feeds I follow, check them out here. Alternatively, you can directly download the exported .opml file with all the feeds I follow!

Outro

From the biggest of online news/article-reading junkies to the most casual of digital-wanderers - I think everyone could benefit from leveraging RSS to consume their digital feeds.

Agree? Disagree? Want to know more about RSS or how I use it? Want to share how you use RSS? Feel free to reach out!