RSS was so 2005…

RSS
Many non geeky computer users probably do not even know what RSS is (though they probably have seen the icon on the left countless times), so let’s break it up with an introduction as to what exactly RSS is before a discussion of how the technology should evolve (in my own personal opinion). I know I should probably be studying for my prelim exams now, but I do need to take a break from all the halogenoalkanes and what have you.

Anyway, RSS is some sort of a subscription service – everyday, updates (in terms of content) get delivered from your favorite sites to your doorstep (or rather your RSS client – but we will get to that in a while). Subscribing to a RSS feed is like signing up for a newspaper subscription – the content comes to you instead of you having to go get it. It’s just like those newsletter email thing, just that you don’t have to give up the privacy of your email address and have your inbox flooded with useless newsletter even though you are no longer interested.

This may not be all so interesting to you when you think of maybe only subscribing to 1 or 2 sites – but it comes in real handy when you subscribe to over 20 feeds (for those of you on the social media wagon, think of feeds as like…Twitter streams). Imagine, instead of waiting for 20 websites to load, you get the content delivered to your computer or even your phone (if you are using an iPhone, may I suggest the ever elegant Newsstand) . You don’t have to spend time reading these websites – the feed contents are often stored locally, meaning that you can read them on the go, whenever you are free. And the updates are almost instantaneous (depending on how often your client checks for RSS updates), so you don’t have to keep refreshing those websites that interest you. The only thing you are probably going to miss is the unique site design – though that’s probably a good thing, after all, many sites are bogged down with unnecessary design elements and advertisements (not that RSS feeds are completely free of ads, but they are usually less distracting).

You probably may not understand the term RSS client. Basically, it’s a tool for you to collect all your RSS feeds together (sort of like a collection of bookmarks). Every few moments, the RSS clients will automatically send a request on your behalf and check for updates to RSS feeds. Whenever there is an update, the client will download the content from the server to store on your computer (or their own server – if it is an online client). But the user often does not see all of these – for some, it can be seen almost like a email subscription and that’s why some desktop email applications actually have a RSS client built in. (Apple Mail is one of them). But there are stand alone clients, such as Google Reader, NetNewsWire etc. that specialize in RSS subscriptions alone.

But these days, it seems that even RSS is lacking in features for some users, especially those that subscribe to many feeds, with each feed getting 20+ updates a day. I for example, subscribe to about 20 feeds, a few of which technology blogs (may I recommend TUAW and Engadget?), my friend’s blogs, news sites and of course other miscellaneous sites (such as Dilbert Comic Strip). Everyday, I get about 100+ unread articles – which means a lot of clutter. Usually I scan the titles – if something catches my eye, then I would read it in full detail – but still, it’s a lot to work with.

And that’s when I found Instapaper. Instapaper is like a bookmark manager for articles you want to read. Ever remember finding an article that you want to read later, but forgot all about it and can’t ever find it again? Or having your browser bookmarks so cluttered with articles that interested you? Well, instapaper is here to help. It comes with a handy bookmarklet (which is actually a small JavaScript script stored as a bookmark), so as you find interesting articles online, you can just add it to your instapaper account by a simple click. Pretty amazing stuff. And here’s the best part – Instapaper is integrated into many RSS clients, so you can simply throw those articles that interest you into your instapaper account. Of course, you can also flag them (or star them) for later viewing pleasure on your RSS client, but Instapaper is an online service, meaning you can sync them across devices (which is very important to me at least). After chucking those feeds that interest me to Instapaper, I mark everything as read on my RSS client and then proceed to slowly chew my way through my Instapaper collection.

But clearly there is a way that everything can be improved. And that’s something I want to try after my A levels – a project on a scale I have never tried before. I have no idea if I am even going to be able to finish it, but if it’s worth a try. But for now, while details are already quite solidly formed in my mind, it’s going to remain there for a little while 😉

Oh, my blog has a RSS feed too! Just in case you didn’t know: feed://wuxiaotian.com/feed/. Or you can just follow me on Twitter, I use this excellent service, twitterfeed, to automatically update my Twitter account when I do have something new on my blog.

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