A week ago I posted to Twitter that I was officially giving up RSS feeds. I had unofficially given up sometime last week after returning from five days at the beach, mostly without checking in on NewsRack on my iPad, which had become my preferred way of reading them. I used my iMachete to hack through them when I got home but the effort of getting my unread count back to zero had me exhausted by midweek and I pretty much gave up.
Now, one week later—one week of the relief of not feeling compelled to check in on all of that “news” stacking up like digital facsimiles of all of the New Yorkers and Atlantics that fill my physical mailbox—I don’t miss RSS, and I feel like I’m paradoxically more aware of the important news stories of the last week.
Since I last worked my Google Reader count (NewsRack syncs with Reader) to zero, I have accumulated just under 9000 unread articles, more than 1000 just from the BBC’s firehose feed, and the only ones I miss are those that I wouldn’t come across by checking in on my usual few sites or through social media: the delightfully wonky Infrastructurist, my favorite vintage graphic design blog Words & Eggs, and my sister’s blog, where I can catch up on how adorable my nephew is on any given day.
But that gets me to what I’ve replaced RSS with: mostly social media. Two articles I came across last week (and yes, maybe I came across them through RSS) gave me the courage to abandon my addiction to the flood. One was this Farhad Manjoo essay about Flipboard, the iPad app that scours my Facebook and Twitter feeds for links that my friends have posted. The other was this post on the Atlantic Wire about NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s media diet in which Rosen claims to use Twitter as his RSS reader. Since last week, I have checked in with Flipboard a few times a day. I set up my own Twitter lists of the feeds of news outlets and their writers and editors; of journalism critics and professors; and of New York Yankee news. I asked myself which things I really cared about, and that’s what I came up with.
And all of the other buzzy stuff gets filtered out for me by my social media social group. I don’t care enough about 98% of Huffington Post articles to get jazzed about filtering through their RSS feed on my own, but when something good does pop up there, I can be reasonably assured that someone in my circle will post it, or at least one of the writers for Slate or the New Yorker or the Times will. Those three previous links, by the way, are all to Twitter lists kept by their respective publications, and Flipboard has become, for me, the single best reason for the existence of Twitter lists. All of those scraped links get pulled into Flipboard and recast into something resembling a magazine. It’s not perfect, but it’s easier than trying to filter out all of those feeds based only on their headlines. Flipboard also restores to me a bit of the sense of which stories are important and which aren’t, because it’s easy to tell which ones are being posted most often by the people and organizations I follow. I’ve also been using Twitter Tim.es, which does a similar sort of thing except in my web browser.
But perhaps the most satisfying change in my media diet over the last week is that I have actually been going back to the actual web sites of the various news organizations that I care most about. Those sites have their own graphic identities, embedded videos and multimedia infographics; and they also give me that sense of what the editors of those sites value.
So it’s a varied diet, which is a nice and unexpected change for me. I’m a hoarder by nature, and I’m sure that there are things I’m missing, I like that not everything comes in the same vanilla package anymore. Maybe I’ll go back to Google Reader someday—I didn’t delete my feeds—but when I do, I’ll have less of the frenzy of an addict, or at least I hope I will.