RSS readers and missed opportunity

Posted by Anton Katunin on 16 December 2017
Tags: code, rss

The story starts with the RubyWeekly newsletter. Once signed up, every week you’ll receive a collection of curated links. It’s a great resource to learn Ruby. It could take a few hours to read through the interesting articles.

I found it hard to set aside 2-4 hours every week to read them in one go. So I wrote a script parses each week’s issue into an RSS feed. The feed had one item per link, which gave more granular control.

I imported the feed into my RSS reader (Feedly) and absolutely loved it.

One month later I faced a limitation of Feedly. Articles older than 1 month are automatically marked as read. There is no way around it. I decided to switch to the second most popular online RSS reader - Inoreader. But none of the RSS readers advertise such a big limitation. Inoreader is no exception. It also has a restriction of 30 days.

After another day of researching RSS reader alternatives and considering “read it later” apps (Pocket, Instapaper) and notes app (Evernote), I could not find any good alternatives which would allow me to maintain unread articles with the convenience of an RSS reader.

Maintaining an unread list is one of the most important features for me. It allows me to consume the short lived content of the ever speeding world at my own pace. I don’t want to be online 24/7. If I have holidays for 2 weeks I don’t want to feel like I’ve missed something interesting. All modern content suffers from this problem. Twitter leading the pack. Only RSS and Email run at their own pace, my pace. And I love it.

It is absurd that none of the RSS readers provide unlimited unread counts. Imagine that your mailbox was automatically marking your unseen emails as “read” while you are on holidays. That’s ridiculous, and yet that’s what RSS readers do. Nobody provides it as a paid feature. Everybody justifies it by being too difficult to scale.

So how much does it take to store my unread counts? Let’s assume I have 100 feeds. To store unread flags for each would take 1kb for 8000 articles plus little storage overhead. So to store all of that would take 100kb.

Multiply that by 100 just for the sake of covering any overheads and extreme usage. That will result in 10mb of space.

10 megabytes!!! or 4 photos in size. 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and yet people are telling me they can’t figure out how to store 4 photos. I’m happy to pay for those 4 luxurious photos, and yet nobody is willing to take my money.

Feels like RSS reader companies are stuck in 2010 and forgot to innovate and follow their customers. That reminds me of times when email services had 5mb size limit. No surprises that many of my friends don’t even know what RSS is. That’s just to add to the dying trend of RSS popularity.

My temporary solution

The okay solution which I’m trialing is to generate one RSS feed per RubyWeekly issue and import it into the RSS reader. That allows to have a granular control per issue and per article with little inconvenience of 20 separate feeds.

After one month I will lose my unread flags for all of them. So I will reimport them again except the feeds that I’ve already read. As long as I read issues in order that should work well.

Inoreader has the feature to automate feed imports, so my solution requires a few minutes of work once a month.

If you know an online RSS reader with an unlimited unread count (or high enough) please tell me.

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