Les Orchard is typing…

Trying WordPress again

A river, not an inbox

I’ve been tinkering with RSS feeds since roughly the year 2000. I’ve published lots of feeds and I’ve used lots of feed readers. I’ve also written a bunch of feed readers – mainly for my own private use, because I haven’t wanted to trouble anyone else with my shameful UX and garbage code. (I did write a book using some of that stuff, so I guess I didn’t keep it all private.)

Apropos of that, I’ve started writing another feed reader. This time I am sharing, insofar as you can go play with it on Glitch and remix if tinkering with it strikes your fancy.

In fact, you have to remix it, if you’d like it to use your own set of feed subscriptions. The web interface is read-only and all the data management happens at the command line. Very lazy, very Hackerman, but it scratches my own itch so far.

Here’s the thing I’m remembering: Feed readers work best for me when they’re rivers, not inboxes. Dave Winer has been writing about Rivers of News for years. My interpretation goes like so:

  • No read / unread flags. There is no “Select All, Mark as Read“.
  • No queue to be processed. “Your RSS reader is not your task master.
  • Reverse chronological order everywhere – new stuff first.
  • Easy-to-skim capsules of content, grouped into relevance by feed.
  • Navigate by paddling down the river. Spacebar, page down, mouse wheel, finger drag – but, crucially, this isn’t item-by-item navigation.
  • Open new tabs in the background or push into Pocket whenever something looks worth reading.
  • Take occasional breaks to read tabs.
  • Continue on to the end of the river or until things look familiar.

Before my new DIY effort, my last reader was Tiny Tiny RSS. It’s a good feed reader, not entirely unlike ye olde Google Reader. The thing that kept kind of driving me away from it is that it’s too inboxy. I mean, you don’t have to interact with it like that, but it invites that usage and that I’m tempted by it. It feels like work and I avoid it often.

Actually, even it’s not strictly a feed reader, Google Discover has been my most-used news stream over the past couple of years. I’d roll out of bed, swipe over to it from my phone’s home screen, thumb through it, and start loading up tabs. I’m pretty much done with that thing now, though.

So, rough & ugly as it is, I’m finding it a lot easier & more enjoyable to paddle down my new river. I even got it working acceptably on my phone. I’ve been catching a lot more news than I have been in probably years. It’s not like this is my first River of News reader – it’s just that I seem to have forgotten how I used to read news from, like, ten years ago.

Here’s another weird thing: It re-occurred to me that Facebook and Twitter and Mastodon are all basically Rivers of News. I mean, quirky rivers with occasional algorithmic rapids – but still, they’re not inboxes. I say re-occurred, because I’ve had these thoughts before. Somehow I just forgot and have been trying to engage with feeds via an inbox again. I wonder why?

Anyway, this was in my head. Now it’s not. Hopefully I’ll do more of that here.