09 Nov 2011

I am a big believer in subscribing to websites via RSS. This may be one of those things which sounds like 'get off my lawn' to those who think 'news' is brought by social networks. However, I stand firm: It's a core idea of a modern internet that you make a choice what your news sources are going to be and automatically fetch them.

I was using Google Reader for years. It was a great web application and it allowed sharing the best articles to other people who used Google Reader. I only had four or five friends who also shared but it was grand - it was meaningful to share the best of the noteworthy.
Now Google decided to kill off the sharing feature, in order to push all the Google Reader users (read: power users, who process a lot of web news) to recommend what they like on Google Plus. I don't like that - google+ is a social network and I can currently see in Facebook what content is being mixed together there. No, thanks. Other people were also unhappy, in particular Iranian users who had a very strong community in Google Reader, because Google Reader and RSS in combination are great to circumvent censorship. A colleague of mine is Iranian, and I can testify that her Google Reader experience was very social. Well, that's over.
Anyway, this gave me a push to try out different things*. I can proudly say that I now host my own RSS reader. I installed Tiny Tiny RSS ("tt-rss") on my hosted webspace, which is an open-source RSS processing software with a great interface. It works well (here are some helpful instructions by Jan) and it lets me export the best of the noteworthy in several ways, not just to one social network.
What is interesting is that hosting my own led to new old realisations: Hosting something is using resources. In this case, tt-rss is checking all of these websites I subscribed to for any updates in their RSS. I can specify how often this should happen, for instance every 15 or 30 minutes. On a slow & shared machine like I have at my webhost, this can keep the machine busy for some minutes if I follow many feeds.
Interesting. Google's cloud just took care of this for me.
The cloud makes things too easy for us sometimes. We forget what it takes to provide this level of service. I was glad to find a feature in tt-rss which lets you specify for each feed individually if it should be checked frequently or maybe only sometimes (say, once a week). You see, RSS is great for fast-moving news and for slow news. There are websites, like this one, for which the publishing frequency is measured in weeks or months. They are still important to some people and I believe that to be able to listen to less-frequent publishers is very important for the web. Who cares if I read the article 2 days after publishing, the main thing is to keep up automagically. 
So, I spent some time telling tt-rss what I don't need to be checked too often. Actually, it was exciting. Taking care of things myself again. Realising that the services I use come with a cost.
Now, I know that Google might handle my feed-requesting more efficiently, through economy of scale and whatnot. But through some specifiation of what I actually find important to be checked very frequently, I think I can come pretty close. Also, tt-rss can act as a PubSubHubbub client, which can also save some resources. Most importantly, I get a sense of what the cloud is doing for us, both in a positive an negative sense. Right now, am glad I took some matters back in to my own hands. I think there will be more to come.
* Credits should go to Google for enabling me to export of all my feeds in an easy and obvious way. I like their view on this - my data is mine to take with me if I go. I think they'd always like to keep a copy, though.
# lastedited 16 Aug 2012
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