Sean Walker

Takes hikesand makes sites


rss feeds

I'm getting pretty old now in internet time, I've been browsing the web almost every day (which is sad in retrospect) for the better part of 20 years. I've seen it go from a niche hobby with people making personal websites and blogs, to what it is today, a mostly corporately owned, watered down version of itself, but even that isn't new, AOL was the first company to water the internet down and make it easy for everyone to get online. The internet is still amazing and equal parts scary and weird, just like how it was 20 years ago, except now the trendy designs and corporations are getting really good, whereas before you could largely ignore AOL because it was hopelessly bad.

Where we are now

Which kind of leads us to where we are today in 2018, to no one's surprise, the walled gardens aren't looking as enticing as they were before, this time it's not an "unfiltered" internet or faster speeds that's going to make a dent in people's perception of the giants, it's privacy, LIBERTY, and control over one's own mind.

Heavy stuff. I'm going to bring back the word heavy, such a good word.

So assuming people do care about their time, and their thoughts, how can we all keep up with the things we love online without a massive corporation running machine learning algorithms to show us content? RSS feeds.

Where do RSS feeds fit in?

RSS feeds were huge in the early-mid turn of the century (2000s) but subsequently died with the rise of social media, which is sad because being in control of the content you saw was really great, and there was no intermediary between you and the content creator, no middleman, the middleman was automated away with a single file hosted on people's web servers: atom.xml.

I have to give credit where it's due though, discovery of that atom.xml file even now hasn't quite been solved as nicely as it was on social media, with # hashtags and @ mentions, and it's definitely not easy or free to get started with your own website even today. Buying a domain is a pain in the butt and costs $10/year.

You could argue that social media is a nicer, more user friendly layer on top of the existing internet, instead of web servers, web sites and links, that all got abstracted away into a few large databases, feeds, mentions and hashtags. It's pretty impressive looking at it now, so much easier to get started writing/reading/viewing online than it still is with traditional websites and links today. Blogs were popular, but they're daunting, seen now only as a means to an end: "Maybe if I start a blog, I can put ads on it and make some money". It would be nice to give people control over their content and even monetize it themselves instead of feeding everything to machine learning algorithms for free. A few aspects that make social media less cumbersome than starting your own website are:

  1. Email + Username/password to get started for free
  2. Limited set of things to fill in, bio (profile), maybe gender, maybe age/birthday, maybe a link to an external website
  3. Shown a list of friends/connections already online, start following
  4. Limited set of things needed to start, upload a picture or a little blob of text (< 240 characters), BAM it's in the "feed"
  5. Concept of a global feed (twitter moments/instagram explore)

The idea that you can essentially create a webpage/mobile app presence with just your email, a name and a password is pretty great, you've just traded 5 minutes (maybe) of your time and all of a sudden anyone in the world can find you at Pretty cool. Of course as you start to try and use this thing, a few things become not so nice about the experience, you see your first ad, and if you're on a mobile app, you can't block them, so that stinks, I guess nothing's really free after all.

The move back to an "open" and "not so free" web

Decentralization gets brought up a lot usually in tandem with blockchains or something, but the web save dns is already pretty decentralized, if it was easier for people to have their own domain and their own rss feeds, we might take a chunk of business away from huge tech corps, which at this point is a really good thing.

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