commit 7935fb7462d0b65239f8426d480dcfb22dff1d27
parent b1b1821a47ffc971ef73bb5bf499cbcbd7cedd4f
Author: oscarbenedito <>
Date:   Sat, 18 Apr 2020 17:01:16 +0200

New entry: Use web feeds!

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diff --git a/content/blog/ b/content/blog/ @@ -0,0 +1,145 @@ +--- +title: "Use web feeds!" +categories: technology +tags: ["Decentralization", "Personal website", "Privacy", "Website"] +date: 2020-04-18T14:59:00+00:00 +--- +Web feeds are data formats used to provide users with updates through web +syndication. Websites can use web feeds to post their content in a format that +allows users to easily check for updates regularly. Examples of web feeds are +[Atom][atom], [RSS][rss] or [JSON Feed][json-feed]. + +The most popular is RSS, you have probably heard of it. Until a year ago, RSS to +me was an old technology that some people used to get their news on an ugly feed +reader. I thought this technology was obsolete because of the couple +[silos][silo] that monopolize online social interactions. Well, this couldn't be +further from the truth. Web feeds are definitely not obsolete, and those "ugly +readers" I remembered were just particular examples, but there are a lot of +beautiful readers out there. There's also a lot of people that want to be able +to get updates on different sites without the need to have an account on a +centralized third-party service. + +Let's see the benefits of using web feeds. + +### Web decentralization + +Web feeds allow for web syndication, which is key in order to decentralize the +web. When you follow a blog or a podcast through web feeds, neither you nor the +content creator rely on a third party to update you on the content. There's no +need to post a new update on a social platform. When new content is published, +the subscribers will see the updates coming directly from the original domain. + +### Centralized updates + +Wait, what?! Well, not as in "centralized service", but as in you get all the +updates from all these different websites in one app or program. Web feeds allow +the subscriber to see all the content updates in one place, so convenient! +Without it, we probably would have to check every single website regularly to +see if new content was published (or maybe design a bot that would do that for +us, but still, annoying). + +### Control over content posting + +By not relying on a third party for content updates, creators have full control +over their communication channel. It will never shut down—disappearing along +with the subscribers—, unless the creator decides to do so. There also won't be +any *magical* algorithms that decide which updates are worth showing to their +subscribers and which ones are not, or even which ones *magically* get deleted. +Subscribers get all of them. + +### Control over the consumption of content + +By using web feed readers, you can configure a dark theme, a bigger font, etc. +You can even have the content read to you. There are accessibility features for +webpages as well, but when using a web feed it is so much easier, since the +content is presented in a standardized format. It is also in the user's power to +filter the content any way they want. Do you want to block certain words? Done! + +### Privacy for the subscriber + +There's no need to insist on the fact that silos are a privacy nightmare. But +there's more. If you are reading a web feed, there are no advertisements +tracking you and there are no [tracking pixels][tracking-pixel]. You read the +content (or not) whenever you want, without anybody tracking you. + +### The disadvantages + +So, why doesn't everyone use it? First of all, most of the blogs I read have a +web feed, Mastodon does too, as well as Youtube[^other-platforms]. However, you +cannot comment through a feed reader and you normally don't see the "related +content" and all those extra features we can find on a website[^distractions]. +There is also an entry barrier: it takes a couple fewer seconds to hit +subscribe/follow than to look for the web feed and open your web feed reader to +add it. + +[^other-platforms]: If you want to follow people from other big social media + sites, there are ways to do so! Use an instance of [Nitter][nitter] for + Twitter or an instance of [Bibliogram][bibliogram] for Instagram. If you have + other sites in mind, look around the Internet, someone probably implemented a + web feed for it. + +[^distractions]: This is actually seen as a good thing most of the time, as you + get to consume the content without any distractions. + +Web feeds also work best when you have a lot of sites that publish every once in +a while. If you subscribe to 500 sites that publish hourly, it can get +overwhelming with the common feed readers (although there are probably others +that are ready for this kind of usage and make it nice). + +Finally, web feeds avoid tracking subscribers and the embedding of adds. That +can be an inconvenience to the content owner, who might want to do that. +Although I am not a fan of it, it is definitely something that happens. If that +is your case, there is an easy solution: don't post the content on the web feed. +Simply put your title and a two-line summary of the content. Subscribers can +then press on the link and open the content. This way you keep your subscribers +up to date, without losing the capacity to embed ads. + +## Why e-mail newsletters are not a web feed substitute + +E-mail newsletters have that decentralized component, you don't depend on a +centralized service (although most of them do, but that isn't necessary). +However they are definitely not private. First of all, you need to give out your +e-mail address, who knows if it will end up on a spam list? If you want to +unsubscribe you have to go to their website and hope for them to erase your data +and not only archive it somewhere. Finally, e-newsletters can—and most +do—contain tracking pixels, so they can know how many times a subscriber +accesses the content and when. + +If you have an e-newsletter but don't have a website for it, then you have a +reasonable excuse not to have a feed (although you should definitely make a +website!). If you post your newsletter online, then add a web feed! It is very +easy! + +## Fun fact! + +As a matter of fact, I started writing a post on RSS feeds about three weeks +ago. When writing why you should add the whole content on your RSS feed and not +only a summary, I remembered that to do so, I did a little hack. I would put the +whole content in the `description` tag, which was designed for a brief summary. +That got me thinking, I wanted to follow the standards. After searching for a +while, I discovered you can use the `content:encoded` tag, which is exactly what +I needed, but there where other tags that also seemed to do the same. After some +more research, I discovered RSS has some standardization issues. So I looked at +the alternative I had heard about before: Atom. Apparently, Atom arose from the +need to standardize RSS, with a new design that wouldn't have backward +compatibility. Atom is very similar to RSS, but I like the fact that there is +one clear specification (apparently it has other cool features in case you are +interested, but I didn't look into them much). + +After reading about this I learned how it worked and implemented for my blog's +feed (since Hugo's default is RSS). So if you use my web feed, you are now +retrieving an Atom feed! + +As you probably figured my first draft had a different approach than the final +post. This was partially because shortly after I started writing, +[this][kevq-post] post came out so I changed my focus a bit. If you don't post +your full content on your web feed, read it! + +[rss]: <> "RSS — Wikipedia" +[atom]: <> "Atom — Wikipedia" +[json-feed]: <> "JSON Feed — Wikipedia" +[silo]: <> "Silo — IndieWeb Wiki" +[tracking-pixel]: <> "Web beacon — Wikipedia" +[nitter]: <> "Nitter repository" +[bibliogram]: <> "Bibliogram repository" +[kevq-post]: <> "Why Having A Full Post RSS Feed Is A Good Idea — Kev Quirk"