2020-04-18-use-web-feeds.md (7971B) - raw


      1 <!-- title: Use web feeds! -->
      2 <!-- slug: use-web-feeds -->
      3 <!-- categories: Decentralization -->
      4 <!-- date: 2020-04-18T14:59:00Z -->
      5 
      6 Web feeds are data formats used to provide users with updates through web
      7 syndication. Websites can use web feeds to post their content in a format that
      8 allows users to easily check for updates regularly. Examples of web feeds are
      9 [Atom][atom], [RSS][rss] or [JSON Feed][json-feed].
     10 
     11 The most popular is RSS, you have probably heard of it. Until a year ago, RSS to
     12 me was an old technology that some people used to get their news on an ugly feed
     13 reader. I thought this technology was obsolete because of the couple
     14 [silos][silo] that monopolize online social interactions. Well, this couldn't be
     15 further from the truth. Web feeds are definitely not obsolete, and those "ugly
     16 readers" I remembered were just particular examples, but there are a lot of
     17 beautiful readers out there. There's also a lot of people that want to be able
     18 to get updates on different sites without the need to have an account on a
     19 centralized third-party service.
     20 
     21 Let's see the benefits of using web feeds.
     22 
     23 ### Web decentralization
     24 
     25 Web feeds allow for web syndication, which is key in order to decentralize the
     26 web. When you follow a blog or a podcast through web feeds, neither you nor the
     27 content creator rely on a third party to update you on the content. There's no
     28 need to post a new update on a social platform. When new content is published,
     29 the subscribers will see the updates coming directly from the original domain.
     30 
     31 ### Centralized updates
     32 
     33 Wait, what?! Well, not as in "centralized service", but as in you get all the
     34 updates from all these different websites in one app or program. Web feeds allow
     35 the subscriber to see all the content updates in one place, so convenient!
     36 Without it, we probably would have to check every single website regularly to
     37 see if new content was published (or maybe design a bot that would do that for
     38 us, but still, annoying).
     39 
     40 ### Control over content posting
     41 
     42 By not relying on a third party for content updates, creators have full control
     43 over their communication channel. It will never shut down—disappearing along
     44 with the subscribers—, unless the creator decides to do so. There also won't be
     45 any *magical* algorithms that decide which updates are worth showing to their
     46 subscribers and which ones are not, or even which ones *magically* get deleted.
     47 Subscribers get all of them.
     48 
     49 ### Control over the consumption of content
     50 
     51 By using web feed readers, you can configure a dark theme, a bigger font, etc.
     52 You can even have the content read to you. There are accessibility features for
     53 webpages as well, but when using a web feed it is so much easier, since the
     54 content is presented in a standardized format. It is also in the user's power to
     55 filter the content any way they want. Do you want to block certain words? Done!
     56 
     57 ### Privacy for the subscriber
     58 
     59 There's no need to insist on the fact that silos are a privacy nightmare. But
     60 there's more. If you are reading a web feed, there are no advertisements
     61 tracking you and there are no [tracking pixels][tracking-pixel]. You read the
     62 content (or not) whenever you want, without anybody tracking you.
     63 
     64 ### The disadvantages
     65 
     66 So, why doesn't everyone use it? First of all, most of the blogs I read have a
     67 web feed, Mastodon does too, as well as Youtube[^other-platforms]. However, you
     68 cannot comment through a feed reader and you normally don't see the "related
     69 content" and all those extra features we can find on a website[^distractions].
     70 There is also an entry barrier: it takes a couple fewer seconds to hit
     71 subscribe/follow than to look for the web feed and open your web feed reader to
     72 add it.
     73 
     74 [^other-platforms]: If you want to follow people from other big social media
     75   sites, there are ways to do so! Use an instance of [Nitter][nitter] for
     76   Twitter or an instance of [Bibliogram][bibliogram] for Instagram. If you have
     77   other sites in mind, look around the Internet, someone probably implemented a
     78   web feed for it.
     79 
     80 [^distractions]: This is actually seen as a good thing most of the time, as you
     81   get to consume the content without any distractions.
     82 
     83 Web feeds also work best when you have a lot of sites that publish every once in
     84 a while. If you subscribe to 500 sites that publish hourly, it can get
     85 overwhelming with the common feed readers (although there are probably others
     86 that are ready for this kind of usage and make it nice).
     87 
     88 Finally, web feeds avoid tracking subscribers and the embedding of adds. That
     89 can be an inconvenience to the content owner, who might want to do that.
     90 Although I am not a fan of it, it is definitely something that happens. If that
     91 is your case, there is an easy solution: don't post the content on the web feed.
     92 Simply put your title and a two-line summary of the content. Subscribers can
     93 then press on the link and open the content. This way you keep your subscribers
     94 up to date, without losing the capacity to embed ads.
     95 
     96 ## Why e-mail newsletters are not a web feed substitute
     97 
     98 E-mail newsletters have that decentralized component, you don't depend on a
     99 centralized service (although most of them do, but that isn't necessary).
    100 However they are definitely not private. First of all, you need to give out your
    101 e-mail address, who knows if it will end up on a spam list? If you want to
    102 unsubscribe you have to go to their website and hope for them to erase your data
    103 and not only archive it somewhere. Finally, e-newsletters can—and most
    104 do—contain tracking pixels, so they can know how many times a subscriber
    105 accesses the content and when.
    106 
    107 If you have an e-newsletter but don't have a website for it, then you have a
    108 reasonable excuse not to have a feed (although you should definitely make a
    109 website!). If you post your newsletter online, then add a web feed! It is very
    110 easy!
    111 
    112 ## Fun fact!
    113 
    114 As a matter of fact, I started writing a post on RSS feeds about three weeks
    115 ago. When writing why you should add the whole content on your RSS feed and not
    116 only a summary, I remembered that to do so, I did a little hack. I would put the
    117 whole content in the `description` tag, which was designed for a brief summary.
    118 That got me thinking, I wanted to follow the standards. After searching for a
    119 while, I discovered you can use the `content:encoded` tag, which is exactly what
    120 I needed, but there where other tags that also seemed to do the same. After some
    121 more research, I discovered RSS has some standardization issues. So I looked at
    122 the alternative I had heard about before: Atom. Apparently, Atom arose from the
    123 need to standardize RSS, with a new design that wouldn't have backward
    124 compatibility. Atom is very similar to RSS, but I like the fact that there is
    125 one clear specification (apparently it has other cool features in case you are
    126 interested, but I didn't look into them much).
    127 
    128 After reading about this I learned how it worked and implemented for my blog's
    129 feed (since Hugo's default is RSS). So if you use my web feed, you are now
    130 retrieving an Atom feed!
    131 
    132 As you probably figured my first draft had a different approach than the final
    133 post. This was partially because shortly after I started writing,
    134 [this][kevq-post] post came out so I changed my focus a bit. If you don't post
    135 your full content on your web feed, read it!
    136 
    137 
    138 [rss]: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSS> "RSS — Wikipedia"
    139 [atom]: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atom_(Web_standard)> "Atom — Wikipedia"
    140 [json-feed]: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JSON_Feed> "JSON Feed — Wikipedia"
    141 [silo]: <https://indieweb.org/silo> "Silo — IndieWeb Wiki"
    142 [tracking-pixel]: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_beacon> "Web beacon — Wikipedia"
    143 [nitter]: <https://github.com/zedeus/nitter> "Nitter — GitHub"
    144 [bibliogram]: <https://sr.ht/~cadence/bibliogram/> "Bibliogram — sr.ht"
    145 [kevq-post]: <https://kevq.uk/why-having-a-full-post-rss-feed-is-a-good-idea/> "Why Having A Full Post RSS Feed Is A Good Idea — Kev Quirk"