RSS

Update on RSS

I started a post a few weeks ago after reading Dr. Dang’s piece: The RSS mess and his follow up piece: More RSS mess but I got distracted and never finished the post. These are excellent pieces of thinking and writing on the current state of RSS aggregators and clients post Google Reader.

Reading the good doctor’s two posts assured me that I’m not the only one still using RSS as my primary way to get updates from a variety of web sites I follow, and that not everyone has abandoned this excellent technology for the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

Even though this site is running on WordPress.com I’m not in the habit of using WordPress’ internal “Reader”, preferring to use ReadKit on my Mac and Reeder 2 for iOS (iPhone and iPad). I used to use Reeder for Mac and in writing this decided to download and test it again, we’ll see. I use Feedly as my cloud aggregator and for the most part this is all working well for me.

Since the Mac OS X.10 Yosemite upgrade, my entire computer including my RSS setup has become a bit more unstable but I’m pretty sure Apple is now releasing software with more bugs in it than in years past and this stuff will hopefully be cleaned up with a Yosemite update.

For me, RSS and my feed reader remain the most used and most important technology and application on my computer and on my iPad (Air 2), to a lesser extent on my iPhone (5S) simply because the screen is too small for me to follow things I want to read to their host web site.

Here’s a list of the various posts on RSS I’ve made here over many years:

Small screens make reading easier for some

Personal discovery on dyslexia may aid many

Astrophysicist Matthew Schneps was waiting at a bus stop, scanning a scientific paper he had downloaded onto his smartphone, when it dawned on him: he was reading with ease.

That realization surprised Schneps, who has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading difficult. He had always felt comfortable in the lab, not the library.

While much of my personal research on how technology can make a difference for people with dyslexia was done before the invention of smartphones and iPod Touches, I learned then that reading was easier for me in narrow columns. The reason is that when the process of reading slows down (for a variety of reasons, including weak or slow automatic decoding as in dyslexia) staying on a line becomes more difficult because one isn’t so sure what to look for content-wise to stay on track (on the right line).

Narrowing the width of a column of text can make this easier. There are many ways to do this:

1. Increase typeface size on a larger screen

2. Put text in columns on a larger screen

3. Read the text on a smaller screen, adjusting typeface size to suit one’s eyeballs.

When you add attention problems to the mix I’m not so sure reading on a small screen makes things better because one’s peripheral vision can pick up distractors more easily making it harder to immerse in the text. This is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to get an iPad mini, even though I love the form factor and size, I do a lot of reading on my iPad and I don’t know how this would work for me. No doubt I’m going to try it but one of the things I’ll be looking for is how deeply I can immerse in text on it vs. the larger iPad screen or my Mac’s larger screen.

Well, let me restate that: I did a lot of reading on my iPad with the Reeder RSS aggregator app before the death of Google Reader but for the past week that’s changed because Reeder on the iPad is on hold and Mr. Reader, while a great app, doesn’t sync with a native (not a web app) Macintosh counterpart. So, I’m using NetNewsWire on the Mac and I have accounts with DIGG, Feedly, and Feedbin all of which I’m not happy with so I don’t use them much.

What (was) great about the Reeder app is that content ruled and the controls had just the right weight to stay out of my peripheral vision unless I needed them. Mr. Reader, while a beautiful app looks a bit like Tweetbot to me (also a beautiful app) but what they do is make the controls of equal weight visually and this doesn’t work for me. Reeder was the perfect mix of easy readability with controls there but in the background.

This is part of the reason I want a native app on the Mac and not a web app: I want to be able to make the screen and reading area smaller so I can scan narrower chunks of text. It looks to me like the new Macintosh OS: Mavericks is moving in that direction by offering things like maps in native application form rather than as web apps. This appeals to me, like “desk accessories” did in the old days.

Both of these ideas: smaller screens making reading easier and the bump in the RSS reader world are bumping into each other in interesting ways right now for me since I do most of my reading in my RSS feed reader.

[via Will Small]

What I’m doing about RSS

With the demise of Google Reader on July 1st there’s a mad scramble to corral the users who are going to be cast adrift when they no longer have a stable cloud based RSS feed home.

As I said in an earlier post on this, for me, readability is at the top of the list of attributes of the application(s) I use to scan feeds. For many years, the Reeder app on Mac, iPad, and iPhone was my primary way to collect, organize, and read everything from personal blogs to various news services to flickr photo streams and more. RSS as a technology and Reeder as a tool to harness it has made reading, an activity that comes hard to me, much easier.

But, the various Reeder apps are not going to be ready to sync with a cloud service and with each other by Monday. Only the latest Reeder for iPhone is going to work with a few of the various cloud services out there but Reeder for iPad and Mac won’t (yet).

Many will feel differently about this but in my case, my MacBook Pro is my primary device for using Reeder, dealing with this blog, and more. I like a real keyboard and a mouse and the various services that Mac OS provides me (vs iOS). So, for me, the primary tool I’m interested in is an RSS reader on my Mac. My iPhone and iPad, while heavily used, come second.

So Reeder is on hold for the time being because the Macintosh version can’t self-host feeds and it won’t work with any of the ongoing cloud based services. As I said in my earlier posts on this, I don’t really care about Google Reader but I really do care about Reeder because that’s the tool I interact with and it gives me no joy to pull it off my Mac’s dock.

Mr. Reader looks like an excellent app for the iPad and it will work with various cloud hosting services. But, it doesn’t have a Mac or iPhone version.

I made an account with Feedly and imported all of my Google Reader feeds, moved over to Feedly in the cloud and turned off the old Feedly Safari extension. I downloaded Feedly for iPhone and iPad and got everything all hooked up. Feedly is working for me, but, I’m not crazy about it because there is no native Mac app (it’s a web app on the computer) and it’s more magazine like than I prefer, even when customized to get the most list-like views out of it. I’m using Feedly as my backup tool and cloud service, hoping that maybe someday Reeder will sync with it.

My very first RSS Reader was an early version of NetNewsWire and I stuck with it for many years until Brent Simmons sold it and at about the same time, Google Reader came along and I switched to it and then later, Reeder.

I decided to give NetNewsWire another try a few days ago and it’s on sale for the moment for $10 so it’s not an expensive experiment. I must say, I’m enjoying using it. Very similar to Reeder with a simple interface and simple controls and decent (and adjustable) typography. At the moment it doesn’t sync with anything but it does hold onto all of your feeds and you can import your Google Reader account with all folders and feeds intact. If you’re not sure what to do and you’re a serious Mac user, I highly recommend buying NetNewsWire and getting your feeds out of Google Reader. This way you’ve saved all of your feeds and any structure you have for reading them and you can wait out the syncing issue and iOS app issue.

If I find myself in a place where I need to see my feeds and can only do it on my iPhone, I’ve got Feedly running and can always dig through feeds to find what I want. But, for now, my primary way of reading

In the end, I’m hoping that Reeder is brought back to life with various possibilities for syncing via the cloud but until then, after a struggle testing a lot of solutions the past few weeks, I think I’ve found a collection of tools that will make this transition tolerable.

Reeder helps me be a better Reader

There’s an interesting backstory to why I’m so interested in the fate of Google Reader, RSS in general, RSS vs. Twitter and the evolution of tools for collecting, organizing, and reading news. In the various pieces that I’ve read about this issue in the past week (all of them excellent) none has touched on the issues that concern me.

Google Reader is two things:

1. A cloud-based RSS feed aggregator that allows client applications to subscribe to its output (plumbing)

2. A web-based RSS feed reader (an appliance)

What I care about preserving is the way I read news and I care less about who handles the plumbing involved in keeping my various news reading applications in sync with one another. I haven’t interacted directly with Google Reader in years, preferring to interact with a client application: Reeder (more on this below).

Because I use Reeder (an “appliance”) on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad to to connect to my Google Reader account, I’m only interested in keeping Google Reader alive because at this point it’s the only synchronization service that Reeder uses. I care about Reeder, my reading tool. I’m hoping that the folks behind Reeder decide to use iCloud or DropBox or their own cloud-based service to synchronize accounts, this would be a relatively painless transition. My guess is this will happen. I’m not worried, Reeder is an extremely popular application on all three platforms.

But for me there’s another much more important aspect of this than these relatively technical details: the process of reading the news itself.

I’m slow and distractible

I’m an extremely slow reader. I can read and I can understand what I’m reading, but my comprehension is fragile, I lose decent comprehension with any kind of distraction. Yes, I’m definitely a card carrying member of the ADD club.

It’s also important to note that I do not skim when I read, or, if I do, I pick up very little. If I want to understand what I’m reading I have to take my time.

As web sites have gotten more encumbered with crap besides the main content, my ability to read things on those web sites has been hampered. Flashing ads, brightly colored backgrounds and text, popups, crawls, and all the rest of the stuff that makes up many news sites makes it much more difficult for someone like me to scan headlines, zero in on what I want, and then read deeply. Even a clean magazine or newspaper layout is less useful to me than a simple list where everything in the list is the same weight and typeface and I’m simply scanning down differentiating content, not colors, images, or some other attribute that has nothing to do with that content. For me, separating the content that I want from the container that I don’t want is important and over the years there have been various ways to do this.

The early days

For me, the most significant technology for doing this has been RSS and applications for aggregating and reading one’s collection of RSS news feeds. But these RSS news readers do more than just organize disparate feeds into a list. They also make it easier to know what I’ve read and what I haven’t without having to scan a magazine/newspaper layout looking for new things (remember, I’m a slow and distractible scanner). For a reader like me, this technology may be the most significant access tool I have and I spend more time in my RSS “appliance” than I do in any other single application on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad.

I started using RSS as a tool to track things with an early version of NetNewsWire before it had any syncing/cloud capabilities and before Google Reader existed. There were far fewer feeds to subscribe to in those early days and many of us didn’t get hooked on this way of aggregating and reading news until a few years later. This was long before there were iPhones and iPads and most folks were using desktop or laptop computers and had little reason to sync unless it was to another computer they used.

Still, during this time the list-based format that NetNewsWire presented news in with ways to organize feeds into folders was a definite fit with my needs as a fragile reader with a big appetite for information on a wide variety of topics and I started spending more time in NetNewsWire than almost any other application on my computer.

When NetNewWire started using NewsGator for cloud-based syncing I had no use for it and didn’t use it. No doubt it was a forward thinking thing for Brent Simmons (the author of NetNewsWire) to do given what came later. I had already moved from desktop/laptop to just a laptop as my sole computer so I had nothing to sync to.

But, what NetNewsWire did was hook me on a way to pull a lot of different sources into one place to read. It was revolutionary really, and it fit both my reading style and my need to feed disparate interests.

The other thing NetNewsWire did was allow me to time-shift reading news and this time-shifting, for a slow reader like me was and remains crucial.

RSS in the cloud with Google Reader

My friend Steve Splonskowski had turned me onto NetNewsWire and after he moved over to Google Reader he told me about it. At that point I wasn’t all that clear about the current and future usefulness of having my collection of RSS feeds (or anything else) in the cloud but I moved over to Google Reader (using it with Safari on a PowerBook) and there were aspects of it that were great compared with the then older and in some ways stodgier NetNewsWire.

So to be clear, initially I was using Google Reader as both the container for my news feeds and as an appliance for reading them. However, I never stopped looking for and trying desktop clients that connected to my Google Reader account like the updated NetNewsWire and Newsfire. I kept looking because while initially reading directly on Google Reader was novel, there were limits to the kinds of controls Google could build into a web-based tool, and, over the years Google’s web tool designs have gotten clumsier, at least for me.

I didn’t fully get the power of having things in the cloud until I got an iPhone as another device to get mail and RSS feeds on. Having moved over to Google Reader put me in a much better place to embrace the growing collection Google Reader iOS client applications running on the iPhone and I tried many before settling on Reeder.

Reeder

Reeder is one of many “appliances” to Google Reader’s “plumbing.” It’s an application that presents one’s collection of news feeds in a (arguably) cleaner and simpler form than using Google Reader (as an appliance) via a web browser. Reeder came out first for the iPhone, then then the Mac, then the iPad and I have it running on all three.

What makes Reeder work for me?

1. Very clean and spare user interface: it has the right balance between information and tools, favoring information and allowing the tools to fall into the background.

2. Large, easy-to-read headlines on each item with date and attribution in a lighter typeface so that it’s not distracting. This may seem trivial but it’s not. The designer, Silvio Rizzi, not only has a clean, minimalist aesthetic, but he has a good feeling for how to design with type to make reading easier.

3. Easy navigation tools that all have keyboard equivalents so that using Reeder on the Mac feels very much like using Reeder on the iPhone and/or iPad. I can move through hundreds of stories quickly without taking my eyes off the headlines.

4. A simple “services” bar that allows easily adding articles to Instapaper, posting on Twitter, emailing and more.

5. Not all RSS output is the full post but when it is, I tend to read it on Reeder because RSS strips out most of the extra information and Reeder presents text in a consistent typeface. Also, reading a site through a newsreader like Reeder allows you to just read content, not be distracted by sidebars with ads and indexes and flashing dingleberries and such.

6. Reeder caches Google Reader output so I can read things without being connected, then once I am connected update my Google Reader cloud collection automatically with what I’ve read, what I’ve saved, etc.

Alternatives

Since Google announced they’re discontinuing Google Reader many friends and many web sites commenting on this have recommended a number of alternatives.

The most common recommendation has been Flipboard which is a magazine-like app that runs on iOS and Android (but not on the Mac) and pulls together Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader and other content in a book/magazine-like format. Flipboard is beautiful and well designed and for what it is, it’s also minimalistic. The problem with Flipboard for me is that it’s a magazine format and I’m looking at a lot of information at one time, like I might on a web site. This looks great aesthetically but I find myself distracted by too much information on my screen at any one time.

Any other feed aggregator that looks like a magazine is not something I’m interested in, although I understand why others are. I’m just not that kind of reader.

For my fragile reading style, a list where everything is presented in the same weight and only the content changes seems to work best if I want to actually understand what I’m reading and move through a lot of information relatively quickly.

These days, with Twitter and Facebook feeds moving by in real time, I’m convinced that many people, even decent readers, skim so lightly and so quickly they don’t stop long enough to think (enough) about what they’re reading. For me, reading comes hard enough so that if I’m going to do it, it better be worthwhile and lead to understanding. So, I protect my slow approach because it leads to better understanding.

Now that you know how I read most of my news, let me go further.

Choosing reading environments

Most people (reading this) don’t choose their reading environments. If you email them a link to an article they’ll follow the link and read the article on the site it’s published on. I do that too at times but if I find the site too busy and the article is good enough to warrant some attention, I’ll hit a single button my my browser’s toolbar: Read Later. That button is something that comes with an Instapaper account.

Instapaper is a cloud-based service that allows you to collect things that you’d like to read later or on another device. Like Google Reader, Instapaper is three things:

1. A cloud-based container for web content that I send to it that I want to read later.

2. A web site for reading that content (on a computer).

3. iOS apps for iPhone and iPad for reading the content of one’s Instapaper account.

And, there’s a Macintosh client that can tap into one’s Instapaper account as well: ReadKit.

So, why would I want to send an article to Instapaper and open it up in ReadKit on my Mac or in the Instapaper app on my iPad or iPhone?

Simple: readability.

Instapaper provides a distraction-free, clean environment to read longer articles in. It feels much like reading a book with Apple’s iBooks app which is an incredible way to read a book. There’s plenty of control but it’s only there if you need it. What you’re looking at is the content you’re reading and you’re not distracted by web content like sidebars, flashing icons, or advertising.

I realize to many the process that I’m describing sounds cumbersome but in fact, it’s not. Here’s how it works.

I’m scanning my RSS feeds in Reeder and find an article I want to read that’s not pushed out in its entirety so I can’t read it end to end in Reeder.

I click through to the web site that’s holding the article, be it The New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, Huffington Post, whatever.

If I find the web site too distracting, or, its type too small to read, I hit the Read Later button on my browser’s toolbar.

This puts the article (even multiple page articles) into Instapaper.

If I’m on my Mac I open up ReadKit, it automatically pulls new things in from Instapaper and there’s the article, beautifully typeset and much easier to read. And, Instapaper will hold that article forever so there’s no rush in reading it. In this way, Instapaper is a DVR for web content, it allows time shifting just like a DVR does for television content but it also allows for a distraction-free, well typeset reading experience which is what I’m after.

If I want to read the article on my iPad on a plane I simply run the Instapaper app and it will automatically update and pull in the new information from the Instapaper cloud. And, the iPad will cache the article(s) so even when I’m not connected on the plane, I have all of my information with me.

The Instapaper app as well as the ReadKit app on the Mac give me typographic control, margin control, and more, so I can set things up in any way I like to make readability easier for me.

The entire process: finding the article I want in Reeder, checking it out on the web (Safari), deciding to save it for “reading later” with Instapaper and opening it up with Instapaper on my iPad or iPhone or ReadKit on the Mac takes less than 15 seconds. If the internet is running slow at that moment it might take as long as 30 seconds but never much more. I not only do this every day with much of what I want to read carefully, I do it multiple times a day. It’s part of my reading process and it works (for me).

Endnote

No doubt these tools will evolve and there will be great solutions to the “problem” that the coming demise of Google Reader has brought about. But, tools are a means to an end and in this case, the end is reading and understanding the news.

For most people reading comes easily enough so that they don’t feel compelled to change the way the information they’re reading is presented. I envy those people. Over many years of struggling with reading I’ve learned that I can read and I can understand if I take my time and can get some control over the way the information is presented to me. This collection of tools and processes is my current way of taking that control.

Why RSS still matters

Why RSS still matters

Another well-written piece on the Google Reader demise and the importance of RSS as a technology on the web. This piece on the difference between looking at a collection of RSS feeds vs. a Twitter feed is meaningful:

Trying to get caught up on more than a day or so of Tweets is virtually impossible for anybody who follows more than a few dozen active users — you simply can’t comprehensively take in the full stream. With RSS, on the other hand, you can scan through headlines and save them (or, yes, share them) and it’s possible to do so after a few days off the internet. Or a few hours. Woe betide the nine to fiver who wants to come home and quickly catch up on the day’s news via Twitter. Not everybody has the luxury of being able to keep tabs on Twitter all day. Twitter is realtime and RSS is time-shifted. Both are important. Just tell these same people you’re taking their DVR away and see what happens.

“Twitter is realtime and RSS is time-shifted.”

Brilliant.

The outrage and sadness of Google Reader’s demise

The outrage and sadness of Google Reader’s demise

More broadly speaking, Reader’s ultimate fail is the latest major rebalancing of the internet’s legacy symmetry of “push” and “pull.”

RSS has always been a useful time-saver for voracious internet binge consumers. Rather than circling among dozens of websites and suffering through tiresome page loads at each URL, RSS adherents can skim headlines at the hub of a giant content wheel, and in many cases (depending on how the feeds were configured) read entire articles without leaving the RSS service.

The whole arrangement, particularly that last part, was terrifying to publishers, who saw an ad-revenue future burned away in a stark landscape of text-only syndication.

Another well written piece on Google’s decision to close down Reader but also on RSS (vs. Twitter) as well.

That last paragraph is an important piece of this: RSS applications aren’t showing entire web sites with sidebars with ads, they’re just showing new posts in the body of a web page. Advertisers would rather you went to a site directly so they can serve you up ads. Another reason to love RSS and feed readers is they allow you to avoid loading web pages just to see headlines, you can browse those in the RSS reader only clicking through to sites you want to visit.

Chris Wetherell Reflects on Google Reader

Google Reader lived on borrowed time: creator Chris Wetherell reflects

This is a great history and commentary from one of the creators of Google Reader.

If there were things that went wrong, then there is a lot of positive things that came from Google Reader, Wetherell said. He believed that one of the main reasons why Google Reader could exist was because companies and entities with completely conflicting agendas came together, supported RSS and other standards. Google, MoveableType, Blogger, WordPress, Flickr and several other web-apps believed in creating RSS feeds for easy consumption. “In the end it helped the average users,” said Wetherell.

But all that is behind us and we might not see similar altruism again, Wetherell theorized. I agree with him. If in the early 2000s, Web 2.0 companies were building platforms that wanted to work with each other, today, we have platforms that are closed. We live in the world of silos now. Twitter and Instagram have broken up. Facebook is the Soviet Union of the modern web. The new systems don’t offer RSS or feeds.”There is no common language of sharing,” he bemoans. And rightfully so! And unless we have web giants speaking the same language of sharing, there seems to be no future of aggregation.

This last piece is rather depressing and it doesn’t speak well for the future of RSS which will only live on if it has broad acceptance and use.

RIP Google Reader

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

Google Reader is a cloud-based service for aggregating (listing, organizing, updating, and subscribing to) RSS feeds. Every web site that I follow/track/read on a regular basis puts out an RSS feed and I collect them all in one place: Google Reader. I use a client application on the Mac: Reeder, and it’s client cousin on iOS: Reeder for iPhone and iPad to read them all. Because all of my feeds are stored in the cloud on Google Reader I can move back and forth between Reeder on the Mac and Reeder on the iPad and everything is automatically in sync. It’s an incredibly slick and useful way to get through a lot of information.

What do I track? All kinds of major news feeds, dozens of blogs, all of my Flickr activity, photoblogs, all kinds of business and investment sites, a ton of Apple-related sites, political blogs, and a few humor and “cute” related sites. Every time any of these sites posts something new, it shows up automatically in Reeder and I see it. Once I’ve looked at it it’s “read” and won’t show up as new again. Simple. The alternative is to visit that particular site and try to remember what’s new and what’s not. RSS is one of the single most important technologies around yet it’s poorly understood and underused and this is terribly frustrating for me because I’m afraid RSS will be marginalized by the likes of Twitter and now Google pulling the plug on Reader.

I realize that some people reading this have no clue what RSS is or why anyone would care about it and that’s fine. But, just to be clear, my RSS feeds are the center of my connected life and unlike some, Twitter will never replace RSS for me. Frankly, even though Twitter has become ubiquitous (even the stodgy PBS NewsHour lists Twitter handles under people’s names) I don’t find it all that useful and have considered dumping it recently as it takes time to deal with and I’d rather read a real headline in my RSS reader than a 140 character quickly-posted-link in Twitter.

A little over a year ago I posted a long piece Ramblings on Twitter, Tweet Marker, RSS, and the cloud that was prompted by my discovery of a cloud service called Tweet Marker that enables synchronization of a Twitter feed across multiple devices. As I said in that post, I have no idea how so many people can track so many Twitter feeds on multiple devices without such a service. I track less than 100 feeds but some folks are tracking thousands. You get caught up on your computer, then move over to your iPhone and have to start all over again. Tweet Marker, by synchronizing the two, will update the iPhone to reflect where you left off on the computer. I’m still not a great fan of Twitter but with Tweet Marker it’s much more useful across multiple devices and clients.

No doubt developers are scrambling because while the demise of Google Reader is a bummer, it’s also an opportunity for smaller developers to get into the cloud hosting game. I’m sure many alternatives to Google Reader will spring up and we’ll get through this transition without too many bumps but it’s important to make note of the fact that a lot of people make daily use of the Google Reader service.

I’ve been reading various pieces about this all morning and so far the best one is this post by Justin Blanton: Quick thoughts on the death of Google Reader.

Ramblings on Twitter, Tweet Marker, RSS, and the cloud

Preface
Last month while reading an interview with Jason Kottke, a blogger I’ve been following for many years I noticed this question and answer:

What’s your online reading setup look like these days? RSS? Twitter? Multiple devices?

For discovery, Twitter and Stellar. No RSS…stopped doing that a few months ago and I feel like it dramatically improved my success rate in finding interesting things (although the addition of Stellar has helped with that too). For reading long stuff, Instapaper.

The fact that he dumped RSS and uses Twitter (and his web application Stellar) gave me pause and I started to think that maybe the way I’m using my aggregation tools needs to be reconsidered. Granted, his response seemed to be about mining the internet for things to post on his site, less about getting news, but many of us mix these two things together and my guess is he does too.

Part of me hates change, especially when I’ve got things working well, but part of me enjoys the evolution of these tools and seeing how things evolve is fascinating. Couple that last thought with the idea that people seem to be skimming rather than reading online these days and you have part of the recipe for the success of a service like Twitter, where posts can be no more than 140 characters long.

Keeping Twitter in sync
Twitter is a service that allows registered users to post (tweet) to their subscribers and subscribers to follow the feeds of people and/or services that interest them. It’s incredibly popular the world over and it runs on computers, tablets, smartphones, and almost every connected device out there.

If you only use Twitter via your web browser on a single computer or device keeping things in sync isn’t an issue for you but if you use Twitter with client software (not a web browser) on multiple devices, have you ever considered that there is no way to keep your feeds in sync? In other words, if you read (skim, browse, scroll) through a bunch of feeds on your computer and get to “now” (a tweet from 1 minute ago) then pick up your iPhone and run your Twitter client there, it has no clue that you’ve already read the feeds you have on your computer, you’re back hours before “now.”

I use Twitter via a client for the Macintosh called Twitterrific and a client for iPad and iPhone called TweetBot. These happen to be popular and excellent Twitter clients in the Macintosh and iOS worlds but I chose them for another reason, they make use of the Tweet Marker service. While Twitter is a cloud service it doesn’t seem to have a way to keep track of the position of your twitter crawl across multiple devices. This is what Tweet Marker is all about and it works quite well with Twitter clients that support it. You don’t need to make an account with Tweet Marker, you simply turn it on in the preferences of supported client applications.

With Tweet Marker enabled, if I update my Twitter feed on my Mac when I pick up my iPhone my Twitter feed automatically scrolls to the place I left off on my Mac, and visa versa. The bookmarking is still awkward on both Twitterrific and Tweetbot but it does work and it makes Twitter infinitely more useable to me.

Frankly, I have no idea how most Twitter users deal with looking at dozens, some with hundreds and some with thousands of feeds across multiple devices. I have no idea how people can deal with more than 100 feeds even on a single device coupled with their RSS and no doubt Facebook activity, but that’s another post. Twitter can be a useful tool and if you want keep things in sync between multiple devices you might want to try Tweet Marker.

I’ve used Twitter for a while but (Kottke aside) prefer my RSS feeds to my Twitter feed for the content I like to track and read. However, an individual can get a Twitter account without having a web site and tweet away while RSS requires a web site that puts out an RSS feed. They’re both useful technologies and there is overlap, it’s up to us to sort it all out as both publishers and readers.

Backstory on RSS
Simply, RSS is a technology that allows a web site like this one to put out a feed and for users like you to subscribe to it. If you subscribe to it and track it along with other feeds in a newsreader application (aggregator) it’s a simple way to see which web sites you visit regularly have updated their information. RSS is useful to a publisher (me) in that it lets me notify you that I’ve posted this piece of writing and it’s useful to a reader (you) because it allows you to see that I’ve posted this along with other feeds you track, all in one place and/or application. It remains my favorite networking technology although it is quickly being replaced by Twitter (Kottke seems to be supporting this) which I’m less than happy about.

The content management system that powers this site, WordPress has RSS capabilities built in so all I have to do is hit “post” on this post and the site will send the headline out to anyone who’s subscribed. In other words, everything I post here is also sent out to my RSS subscribers and if they want to read further they can click on the feed headline and come here to get more information. I could also send the post to my Twitter account automatically so that anyone subscribed to my Twitter feed (an overlapping group) would see notice there. I do this manually now as I update posts and permalinks and don’t want to be posting to Twitter until things are done on this end so that I don’t create dead links for subscribers.

Almost every web site I visit I visit through a headline I’ve clicked on in my RSS newsreader. I have only a few sites I visit daily that I visit by way of a browser bookmark. RSS has been the core of my web experience for many years and I can’t imagine it any other way.

For those reading here who have never used or learned about RSS, look at this old post What is RSS and/or this entry: RSS.

The need for cloud services
In the old days when NetNewsWire was the only game in town for managing multiple RSS feeds on the Macintosh and we didn’t have to deal with multiple devices, life was simple. As people started attempting to manage RSS feeds across multiple computers the need for cloud-based services became apparent and around this time Google started offering RSS feed aggregation with their Google Reader service (there were and are many others). One could use a web browser or a dedicated client application on a computer to read feeds on one computer and log into the same account on another computer and see where one left off. This is the beauty and importance of having this stuff in the cloud but also having the service keep track of activity. I can read some feeds on the train with my iPhone and when I open my computer when I get home I don’t see those feeds as unread, they’re read and gone.

The world of RSS aggregation and reading has remained like this through the transition to iPhone and iPad and at this point I have a Google Reader account that I read on my Mac, my iPad, and my iPhone with a great application called Reeder. There are Windows and Android equivalents of all of this stuff although Reeder is so good I’m not sure what’s quite that good in the Windows and Android worlds. No doubt there’s something. It doesn’t matter, what matters is that you find a client application you like and use it to manage the ever growing stream of information coming our way.

For those new to all of this let me be clear: Reeder is a client application that is not stand-alone, it requires that you have a Google Reader account to store your RSS feeds in the cloud. It taps into that account and displays the feeds and allows interaction with the account more elegantly than Google does in a web browser. Reeder is the killer RSS aggregation app for any Macintosh or iOS using, Google Reader using user.

In the same way I find it difficult to understand how people who use the web for news and information can get along without a newsreader subscribed to RSS feeds, I can’t understand how anyone could use Twitter and keep up without a service like Tweet Marker and I’m amazed that Twitter doesn’t have a service like this built into their API. Twitter the company should buy the Tweet Marker capability from its author and embed it in their Twitter back end.

Will Twitter kill RSS? I hope not. They’re different technologies with different capabilities and I find them both useful, now that there’s Tweet Marker.