If you follow the news at all, you’ve heard about the problem of social media “news bubbles”. People who primarily get their news (either real or fake) from social media sites can find that articles from ideologically different websites can be slowly filtered out leaving users with an echo chamber where all their preconceived notions are reinforced and competing ideas go unnoticed.
Just about every social media site is guilty of this kind of algorithmic filtering. Facebook, Reddit, and even Twitter (although to a lesser extent) all do it. The reason is simple – the longer users stay on the site, the more the algorithm learns what you like, and can keep showing you those things. The better the algorithm gets at learning what you like the better it can customize ads for you, and the more money it can make.
For those people that want information – whether it matches your worldview or not – there is an easy answer. RSS feeds.
What is an RSS Reader?
RSS stands for “Rich Site Syndication”, and it’s a format for sites to easily publish a variety of content that is readable by an RSS reader. RSS feeds include an article’s text (or a summary), images, audio and/or video, metadata, and the author’s information.
You can see the raw data for a great site *cough cough* by clicking on this link. Generally, RSS feed links can be found by looking for a smaller version of these images:
Keep in mind this icon will likely be much smaller – generally, the bottom icon is the one used, and you may have to search to find it.
You can see an example of this symbol in my website’s header (scroll up to the top of the page and look just to the right of my name) or in the right sidebar (just above the search box). Clicking the symbol will take you to the RSS feed’s page, where you can view the raw XML and get the URL for the RSS feed.
How to Use RSS Feeds
Instead of a standalone app, Feedly is a website that lets you keep updated with your feeds from any computer, smartphone (iOS or Android), or tablet. Feedly also integrates with other RSS reader apps, if you don’t like the Feedly app. There are special features available if you want to pay a small amount per month (about $5, billed annually), but the free version is a great way to get started with RSS feeds.
Adding feeds to Feedly is pretty straightforward. You can search for topics, websites, authors, or put in an RSS feed address for smaller sites. Feedly updates every few minutes, so instead of checking 2 or 3 (or 10 or 20) websites for new articles, you can just go to your Feedly page and scroll through all the most recent articles.
Your read and unread articles are automatically synced to your Feedly account, which means that whether you are checking from your phone, tablet, or computer, you never lose your place.
When you add a website, you can choose to add it to a specific category (that you name), so you can keep different topics separate (I have categories for news, music, technology, to name a few) if you prefer.
The free version of Feedly offers also integrations with useful apps like Pocket`, and lets you easily save interesting articles for later or email them to others that may find them useful. If you do upgrade, the premium version includes more integrations into other apps like WordPress, Hootsuite, and more.
Other RSS Tools
While Feedly is probably the most approachable (and cheapest!) way to get into RSS feeds, there are other services if you need more advanced features. Web services like Feedbin, Newsblur, and The Old Reader, among many others, all offer slightly different functionality. Some include advanced search features, predictive article filtering, or more advanced organization functionality, but many of these services cost a couple of dollars per month.
Additionally, if you want an RSS reader right in your email inbox (especially useful if you use something like Gmail, with its advanced filtering capabilities), you can use IFTTT (a great site that I’m planning a few more articles about) to automatically send new RSS feed articles to your email address – so you can check the news while checking your email! This requires a bit more work since you have to find the URLs for each RSS feed individually, to add to IFTTT, and you must add filters to Gmail, but if you live in your inbox, this one-time setup may be more useful.
You can find complete instructions on how to do this over on Gizmodo.
Some Recommended RSS Feeds
Once you get your reader setup, make sure you consider the RSS feeds you add. If you’re wanting to get out of the “filter bubble” you’ll need to add sites that you may agree with and some that you may disagree with.
If you’re looking for news and/or politics, some good sites to add would be:
- New York Times
- Washington Post
- BBC News
- Wall Street Journal
- NPR News
- Fox News
While some of these may be more partisan than others, these give you a good balance of different perspectives on the same news topic, but avoiding some of the more “skewed” or “click-bait” articles and headlines that you’ll see all over popular social media sites.
Here are some of the other sites I follow, that I find to be very useful:
For tech news and reviews:
- Anandtech – The most in-depth gadget reviews you’ll find, anywhere.
- Ars Technica – A wide variety of tech topics, from smartphones to computers, to cars.
For consumer goods:
- Amazon – You can follow Amazon and get real-time notifications of sales and deals. Be warned, that this can be 200-600+ items per day.
- The Sweethome/The Wirecutter – A pair of sites that do a good job of reviewing home goods (The Sweethome) and tech (The Wirecutter). Their reviews are in-depth and while I don’t agree with all of them, they are all well done and fairly thorough.
For killing time or other topics that don’t really fit the above categories:
- Lifehacker – Lots of useful tips and aggregation of topics from a variety of sources.
- Seth Godin – The author of lots of great books, he posts a short blog entry every day that is pretty insightful and often useful.
- Adaptistration – By Drew McManus, he posts a blog entry each day about the business of running (or not running) an orchestra.
- Todoist blog – I’ve recently become obsessed with productivity, and I use the Todoist app on both my Nexus 6P, laptop, and computer daily. They post periodic blog entries on the topic of productivity, and they are generally pretty interesting.
- Wikipedia – They have an RSS feed to get the “Article of the Day” sent to your RSS reader. Sometimes useful, sometimes useless, but generally interesting.
There are quite a few other sites that I subscribe to, but these should give you a great place to start on your customized RSS news feed. If you have any questions or have a great site that I missed, please post it in the comments below!