It’s 2024, and I’m here to extol the virtues of using an RSS reader. If you missed out on a better era of consuming news and other online content, RSS either stands for RDF (Resource Description Framework) Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication, depending on who you ask—even Wikipedia includes both expansions of the initialism.
Whatever the linguistic details, one of the main roles of RSS is to supply directly to you a steady stream of updates from a website. Every new article published on that site is served up in a list that can be interpreted by an RSS reader.
In earlier, simpler internet times, RSS was the way to keep up to date with what was happening on all of your favorite sites. You would open your RSS reader and tap through newly published articles one by one, in chronological order, in the same way you would check your email. It was an easy way to keep tabs on what was new and what was of interest.
Unfortunately, RSS is no longer how most of us consume “content.” (Google famously killed its beloved Google Reader more than a decade ago.) It’s now the norm to check social media or the front pages of many different sites to see what’s new. But I think RSS still has a place in your life: Especially for those who don’t want to miss anything or have algorithms choosing what they read, it remains one of the best ways to navigate the internet. Here’s a primer on what RSS can (still!) do for you, and how to get started with it, even in this late era of online existence.
How RSS works
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Chrome’s mobile apps come with an RSS reader-style feature called Follow.
RSS is essentially a standard for serving up text and images in a feed-like format, and not all that dissimilar to HTML. Typically, the feed includes the headline of an article, some of the text (often just the introduction), and perhaps the main image. RSS data isn’t really readable in a browser tab, but it is in an app built to interpret RSS properly.
The RSS standard actually remains the default way of distributing podcasts, with each new episode—together with the episode title, cover art, and descriptive blurb—appearing as a new entry in the feed of your podcast app of choice. When you subscribe to a new show through Pocket Casts or Apple Podcasts, you’re essentially pointing the app towards the RSS feed for the podcast you want to listen to, and it takes care of serving up each new episode.
In times gone by, websites would prominently display their RSS feed links somewhere on the front page. That’s less common now, but you can often find these feeds if you dig deeper or run a web search for them (incidentally, the Lifehacker RSS feed can be found here). Some sites offer multiple RSS feeds covering different categories of content, such as tech or sports.
Even when a site doesn’t explicitly offer RSS feeds, the best RSS readers can now produce their own approximation of them by watching for new activity on a site, so you can direct the app toward the site you want to keep tabs on. For example, in Chrome for Android and iOS, you can tap the three dots to open the app settings menu, then choose Follow to get updates from the site you’re currently browsing; this is the rough approximation of using a basic RSS reader. (But you have much better alternatives, which I’ll get to shortly.)
The advantages of using an RSS reader
Your RSS reader can be your window on the web.
We’re all different when it comes to how we consume news on the web: Some of us will browse social media feeds, some of us will load up the same sites every morning, and some of us will get updates via push notifications on our phones. The benefits of RSS will vary depending on how you like to stay up to date.
However, RSS is clearly useful if you have a selection of favorite websites and you want to skim through everything they publish (or everything they publish in a certain category, if the site has several feeds). No one is choosing what you see but you—you have more control over your news diet, free from any choices made by an algorithm.
Using RSS means you can catch up on everything, methodically and chronologically, even if you’ve been offline for a week (you don’t have to catch up on everything, of course—but you can, if you want, as your feed will operate on an infinite scroll). It’s also a cleaner, less cluttered way of using the internet, as you only need click through on the specific articles you want to read.
Some of the other advantages of RSS will depend on the reader app you’re using. You might be able to sort your feeds in different ways, for example, or search back through the archives for specific types of stories, or add notes and bookmarks to links you’re particularly interested in. If you’ve never given RSS a try, it’s well worth giving it a go.
The best RSS reader apps in 2024
Inoreader is one of the top RSS readers out there.
RSS readers aren’t quite as ubiquitous as they once were, but you can still find quite a few if you take a look around.
The best RSS feed running is arguably Feedly, which offers a bunch of features across free and paid-for plans: It has a clean, clear interface, it can generate RSS feeds for sites that don’t have them, it can sort feeds in a variety of ways, it can incorporate email newsletters, and much more besides.
Feeder is a good place to start for RSS newbies because it helps you get up and running quickly, and offers a straightforward, streamlined interface. It works seamlessly across all the major platforms, and if you need extra bells and whistles—including a real time dashboard and sophisticated filters for your feeds—then there are paid plans available that also increase the number of feeds you can monitor simultaneously.
Another RSS reader with a lot of fans is Inoreader. It has all the tools and features you need to carefully curate your own news feed, and it keeps an extensive archive of everything you’ve ever looked at—handy if you need to retrace your steps for whatever reason. Pay for a premium plan, and you get rid of the ads while also getting access to even more features, such as support for email newsletters.
Finally, there’s NewsBlur, which is bursting at the seams with features, from story tagging, to full text search, to third-party app integrations. It’s also one of the best RSS readers for giving you control over how the app looks and how your feeds are presented. As with the other RSS readers I’ve mentioned here, you can pay a fee for some extra features, but a lot are available to you for free.