< willowashmaple.xyz

By Willow (willowashmaple.xyz)

Delete your news apps!

July 8, 2024 (revised July 17, 2024)

These days, nearly everyone with a smartphone seems to get their news from news apps and social media. Algorithms are designed to get them glued to the screen and continually outraged about whatever topic gives the media outlets and app developers more engagement, more clicks, and by extension, higher ratings and ad revenues.

At the same time, we seem to have forgotten how to read. We just skim through the outrage-inducing headlines and lead paragraphs, and before we even critically understand them, we propagate them by hitting the "share" button.

Not so long time ago, there were four TV channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS) and there was one (or two, if you lived in a big city) daily newspaper and perhaps one or two alternative weeklies focused on local news and cultural events. There was the morning news, and there was the evening news. The newspaper usually was dropped off your doorstep around 3 or 4 in the morning if you subscribed to it, if not, you'd find one in one of many street corner vending machines on your way to work. If you wanted more than that, you could watch CNN Headline News on cable, or tune into an "all news all the time" AM radio station. There was no "share" button, and there was no clickbait. Shady "news" and conspiracy theories were relegated to questionable tabloids at checkout lines and to after-midnight AM talk shows such as Art Bell/Coast to Coast AM (a sidenote: When I developed severe depression and anxiety around age 23, I was very drawn to the Art Bell show on 1190 KEX and would listen to it pretty much every night; my mental health got worse).

Looking at the media industry's behaviors since the recent Biden-Trump presidential debate, I have come to the conclusion that the U.S. news media is dead beyond redemption. And all this is a result of its new business model driven by social media and ratings.

When the news outlets still regarded the online distribution of stories as an adjunct to their main business (print or broadcast), it was not this bad.

"Enshittification" is a word coined by Cory Doctorow about a year and a half ago, describing a phenomenon in which "online services and products experience a decline in quality over time. It is observed as platforms transition through several stages: initially offering high-quality services to attract users, then shifting to favor business customers to increase profitability, and finally focusing on maximizing profits for shareholders at the expense of both users and business customers."

The Internet has been enshittified for a very long time.

Often the best technologies the Internet has to offer are still the ones that have the longest history dating back before "Web 2.0," that is, the advent of social media and walled-garden online experiences.

Delete your news apps.

Say hello to RSS readers.

If you are too young to know what RSS is, it stands for Real Simple Syndication. RSS is a cross-platform, open-source, and standardized protocol for allowing users to keep track of news or blog articles using aggregator software. RSS also allows websites to pull content from other news or blog sites and display their headlines on a web page. The technology is now 25 years old, with the last revision to its standard being 15 years ago.

There are many RSS reader software, for every operating system. Most of them are free and open-source.

You can use it to "subscribe" to news sources and blogs without ever having to send your personal information to them. Unlike email newsletters and news apps, no user information is ever collected.

And you can read the latest articles, which are displayed chronologically, just like your email inbox. There is no algorithm pushing "trending" articles or promoting publishers you have never heard of. You will only get content from what you have subscribed to. RSS readers put YOU in charge.

There are only two things you need to do: (1) download and install an RSS reader of your choice; and (2) find RSS feed URLs from sites of your choice, which can sometimes be tricky.

Get an RSS reader

The easiest option is CommaFeed. It is a web-based RSS reader where everything is kept on the cloud. It has a simple user interface that resembles an email inbox. The left column shows a list of blogs or news sites you have subscribed to (you can also use an RSS reader to keep track of your favorite podcasts, as most podcasts have RSS feeds). Since this is web-based, there is nothing to install, and all you need is a web browser (mobile-friendly too).


I have experimented with several RSS reader apps for Android, but I think Read You is the best. It is lightweight, low on memory usage (one downside: you cannot read the feed while it is synching), and has an excellent user interface that is simple and visually pleasing.

Read You (via F-Droid) - Not available through Google Play

Another great open-source RSS reader for Android is Feeder.

Feeder (via F-Droid)
Feeder (via Google Play)

For desktops, RSS Guard is highly recommended. It is fast, simple, free, and open-source, and is available for Linux (AppImage), macOS, and Windows.

RSS Guard

The desktop Vivaldi browser has a built-in RSS reader integration (it must be activated at install).

Vivaldi Feed Reader
Tutorial video

SmartRSS adds an RSS reader integration to your Firefox or Chromium-based browsers:

SmartRSS GitHub
Firefox add-on (also for Waterfox, Floorp, Midori)
Chrome extension (also for Opera, Edge, Vivaldi, Chromium)

How to find RSS feeds to subscribe to

Nearly all blog sites, podcasts, and news websites have RSS feeds even if they are not openly disclosed. Usually, they are easy to guess: try appending "/feed" or "/rss" or "/atom" to the URL (if not, try "/rss.xml", "/atom.xml", or "/feed.xml").

This may take a form of something like: "https://foobarblog.com.aq/feed", "https://blog.foobar.org.aq/feed", or "https://www.foobar.net.aq/blog/feed".

How to find the RSS feed URL

There is also a convenient lookup site:

RSS Lookup

Extract RSS feeds from Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud or Google Podcasts

Get RSS feed

How to get RSS feed for Spotify-hosted podcasts

Spotify RSS feed

The RSS feed address for Substack is simply "/feed" after the domain names.

Example: https://littlefreeseminary.substack.com/feed

Sometimes finding RSS feed addresses for podcasts is difficult. But here's a workaround:

1. Download and install the AntennaPod podcast app on Android. AntennaPod makes use of RSS to manage podcast subscriptions and is an open-source software.


2. Once AntennaPod is up and running, tap the menu icon ("hamburger" icon), then select "+ Add podcast."

3. In the "Search podcast..." box, enter the name of a podcast.

4. Select a podcast from the search results, and tap "Subscribe."

5. Once you have subscribed to all the podcasts you'd like, go back to the main screen, tap the menu icon again, and scroll the menu all the way down to "Settings."

6. In the Settings area, select "Import/Export"; then select "OPML export." This will open your phone's file manager. Save the file (automatically named "antennapod-feeds-todays-date.opml") on your device.

7. Exit AntennaPod and open Read You (or any other RSS reader app of your choice, but the following instructions are specific to Read You).

8. Tap the plus "+" symbol on the upper right hand corner. This should pop up a "Subscribe" window. Tap the "Import from OPML" link at the bottom. This opens your device's file manager. Select the .opml file you just downloaded (if you don't see it, make sure you are looking at the Downloads directory; if not, it may be under the "recent files."). The OPML file is now imported to Read You. Once the import is done, you will see your podcasts in the Read You app along with all the blogs and news articles.

9. For your desktop computer: Email yourself with the "antennapod-feeds-*.opml" file attached. Go to your computer and open that email, and download the attachment. Open an RSS reader, and look for "feeds" under the menu. There should be either "import OPML" or "import feeds." Select it and follow the directions.

Save your OPML file for backup!

An OPML file contains the RSS feed addresses of all the content you have subscribed. This file should be periodically generated (every RSS reader has an "export OPML" function) and saved somewhere as a backup. The OPML file also comes in handy when you are switching your RSS reader or if you use more than one device.

Subscribe to this site, too!

The RSS feed address to this site is: https://willowashmaple.xyz/atom.xml


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