Table of Contents
I recently talked about how I looked into Omnivore, and mentioned in passing how it didn’t connect to RSS feeds, and I realised I had not discussed how I access my RSS feeds. So, in this post, I’ll be going through my journey with RSS, and where I’ve landed up, as well as how I decided to read newsletters, and what this means to the Omnivore set up.
I don’t quite remember when I first began using RSS to read content online, but I do recall saving RSS feeds to my bookmark toolbar within Firefox and every day having a quick look through them. Although Firefox removed this feature a couple of years ago, the add-on Livemarks is a good replacement which I still use, though not in the same fashion as I used to.
These days, rather than websites I wanted to keep an eye on for updated posts, I now use my feeds on my bookmark toolbar for news websites as a quick way to keep on top of current events.
I slowly migrated away from using this method for website post updates some point after getting a mobile device, and preferring to read on there. I had grown used to using ReadItLater (eventually becoming Pocket), and wanted a way to read RSS feeds in a similar way. I came across Flipboard which integrated news sources and RSS feeds into a nice UI mimicking a newspaper. For a while, I used this method alongside trying out RSS apps, but gradually faded in use.
I became reawakened to using RSS as a means of delivering content to me with the arrival of IFTTT, particularly how I could not only create a system whereby RSS feeds get sent directly to my inbox, but I could also aggregate them to only land in my inbox at the weekend when I had time to read them.
Initially, this was a good system, but it only takes one weekend missed to fall behind, and before I knew it, I was being swamped with RSS emails, many containing posts I didn’t actually care about. I decided I needed an app where I could quickly swipe past the posts that didn’t interest me, and spend time reading the ones that did.
I knew I was never going to last long using Inoreader, a service which many say is one of the best in its field, due to its pricing structure, but I gave it a go just in case such a price was worth it. And it probably is for people who are keenly into reading content spread across the internet with it aggregating not just RSS, but also newsletters, social media and websites without RSS, and it’s also for those who have the money. I simply don’t, and so had to look elsewhere.
The biggest name in RSS is probably Feedly, and it was the first place I looked when trying out something new. It’s a decent enough service for someone starting out, but I disliked how intrusive it felt, and was flagged up as not being the best privacy wise.
I’m not sure how I came across Palabre, an Android RSS app which can either sync with Feedly or fetch RSS feeds itself. I liked its UI, and how I could keep the RSS feeds local to my Android device where I would be reading them. This was my method for accessing RSS content for many years, still using it even after not being updated for a long time and becoming abandonware. But hey, if it isn’t broke, why fix it?
Well, when I became interested in selfhosting, one of the first things that came up suggested by people to do was to set up your own RSS aggregation service. There are many choices out there and pretty lightweight after all. So I thought I’d give it a go.
Tiny Tiny RSS
The name most recommended was Tiny Tiny RSS, but I couldn’t get it working for some reason, and later found people online starting to suggest moving away from the platform. So, not determined to work out why I was getting issues, I looked elsewhere.
Miniflux looked nice enough, with its minimal and clean UI, but I again had issues with setup and frequently ran into issues. Not a problem, there are other options.
I finally got a setup working with Selfoss, and was initially happy with it, until it came to using third-party applications to access the RSS content. Although it had its own mobile app, I didn’t like the idea of being locked in, and while there were workarounds to use in other applications I found them buggy.
On the other hand, FreshRSS seemed to be a protocol widely supported by many third-party applications as the API could be manipulated to appear as either Fever or Google Reader. This excited me as I could then shop around to find the mobile app and desktop application which suited me best. The process of migration was simple as the subscriptions can be imported (as well as exported for backing up), and then there wasn’t much more to do aside from changing the theme to Catppuccin as it worked pretty much straight out of the box, though there are plenty of extensions if I wanted to do more with it.
On my Android phone, I chose the FeedMe app, and am still experimenting on the desktop, currently trying out Raven Reader and NetNewsWire, though leaning towards Raven Reader as it is cross-platform on Linux as well.
As times have changed online, fewer people are pushing content via a website and summarising it through RSS. Instead, there has been a major shift towards newsletters, something I suspect is due to how easy it is to monetise compared to using advertisements or traditional paywalls.
As a consequence, there is a lot of interesting content tucked away within newsletters, which makes them difficult to read elsewhere. There have been some workarounds, with Inoreader’s paid tiers having an email address to use when signing up to newsletters, to then automatically integrate into your Inoreader set up, and Omnivore has something similar too.
Of course, one may ask what is the issue with newsletters as they are designed, to arrive promptly in the inbox of the person to signed up to it? Well, maybe not much for most people, considering many seem to be using newsletters. However, my issues were them clogging my inbox up, and then forgetting about them if they were moved or had rules to send them to a dedicated Newsletter folder. I also did not like how the remote content couldn’t be displayed within my email program as I had set it up to be privacy conscious, but didn’t really need that when viewing a newsletter compared to possible spam, phishing or marketing emails from elsewhere.
Furthermore, for me, reading newsletters ought to be about enjoying the content, rather than having an email focused UI, which thinks this is a message you might respond to, get in the way.
So, I wanted a way to read the content within newsletters without having them bother my email setup, but also something that was free, that I could use on my mobile devices, and had an attractive UI designed for reading.
I’m not sure how I came across Slick Inbox, it may have been by accident or through a search, but I liked the concept, doing what Inoreader was offering, but just and only that: an email address to give when signing up to newsletters, and an app to then display all the emails in.
Essentially, it could be argued Slick Inbox is just a glorified dedicated inbox for newsletters, but offers an easy way to unsubscribe to newsletters, the ability to bundle similar newsletters together for browsing a topic, a discovery system, and all within a UI designed to read and not send or reply.
However, after a while of using it, I did wonder what would eventually happen to my Slick Inbox account when out of BETA, I would probably be charged to have as many newsletters as I have, so I decided to try out a system of using an email account, despite my past reservations - after all, it can’t be too different to this, could it?
Email Rules and Filters
While I was able to easily create a dedicated inbox, rules, filters, and use the intermediary service of SimpleLogin to prevent the newsletters knowing my actual email address (as well as giving me a way to quickly unsubscribe by nuking the email address), I very quickly realised why I didn’t do this in the first place, with the same issues arising as I mentioned earlier.
All this reaffirmed my initial belief a dedicated application for reading was likely the better path.
RSS 🤝 Newsletters
Thankfully, I am not the only person out there who is struggling to find a way to access the content of newsletters without wanting them to land and clog up my inbox.
I think I stumbled across Kill The Newsletter somewhere on Reddit, an open source self hosted service which converts newsletters into RSS feeds. You create an inbox with the name of the newsletter you wish to read, the service then gives you an email address to use to sign up to the newsletter and a .XML URL to add into your chosen RSS platform. You’ll then see any emails sent to that inbox in the RSS feed.
I think it’s an excellent idea being able to integrate newsletters into existing RSS reading setups, and love how this means the content of newsletters can now be read in multiple different ways. Although I am not a big reader of RSS or newsletters on my desktop, I know many are, and am glad it can be accessed not only via, say, an Android app, but also desktop applications.
Although it has taken me a long time to get to this point, I think the current setup is functioning well for me as I significantly prefer working within RSS readers and having the feeds update alongside newsletters, as I’m in a “reading mood” when I open my apps up, good to have it all in the same place!