Rethinking How I Consume RSS

A lot has changed since I first posted about what I read back in 2008. I stopped reading tech sites like TechCrunch and instead started relying on podcasts from the TWiT network for most of my tech news. I unsubscribed from some blogs and instead followed the authors on Twitter. I co-founded LockerPulse, which I use exclusively for my sports news.

Still, Google Reader played a regular role in my reading so I was really sad to see it go. RSS lets you keep up with EVERYTHING from a specific source, which is incredibly useful for sites I want to follow very closely. For instance, we spend a lot of money with Google AdWords. I want to see every post on the Inside AdWords blog so that we’re up to date on every single change that can help give us a competitive advantage. We routinely sign up for pilot programs as soon as they’re available, and more often than not we’re granted access and they end up being successful for us. So, I imported my remaining feeds into Feedly (which as it turns out is a surprisingly great product) and then went on with my life.

The Problem

Early in the summer I started getting frustrated. I’d just moved in to our new house. My routine became reading Feedly on my iPad after dinner out on our porch. A pattern started to emerge: I’d be winding down from a hard day of work and then I’d see an important announcement that I had to act on. Immediately I’d be thrust back into work mode – diving into more research on the topic, sending an email to someone on our team, adding items to our to-do list, or adjusting my priorities for the next day. I then had to start relaxing all over again. I really didn’t want the extra work stress after I had declared the work day over with. It’s one thing if our server goes down. But for a RSS story that could wait until the following day? No thanks.

Email Me!

I decided I wanted to separate the feeds I follow for personal enjoyment from the work-related feeds. After some thought I figured a daily email with all of my feeds would be the best solution because:

  • When I answer work email I’m already working.
  • All of the software I may need to take action is right at my finger tips (Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Remember the Milk to-do list, etc).
  • Email is easily searchable. Gmail’s search is better than what any RSS reader offers.
  • Email is as permanent as I want it to be. If I want to search something from Google Reader circa 2009 I’m out of luck now. That won’t happen with email.

With that, I set out to find a service to use. With my OPML file in hand, I figured it would take me a few minutes. I was wrong.

The (Overly Complex) Solution – Yahoo Pipes + Feedburner

Apparently the service I want doesn’t exist…or at least I couldn’t find it with an hour of Googling. I signed up for three different services but they all suffered from the same problem: they’d send a separate email for each feed, not one single email for all of the feeds. I wanted one email per day, not 15.

We actually create this exact type of email for our LockerPulse users. I briefly considered taking the code from LP and starting a new service. But my practical mind got control of my entrepreneurial mind and I figured there had to be a simpler solution. Turns out there is, it’s just not that simple.

In my searching I saw a lot of people with similar inquires directed towards Yahoo Pipes. Pipes is sort of a visual coding interface that allows you to mash up stuff from a variety of sources on the web. It seemed like exactly what I needed, despite being quite a bit more work than just importing an OPML file.

After I few hours on a Saturday I had my Pipe:

My RSS Yahoo Pipe

Yea, it’s a total freaking mess, but it works and it only takes a minute to add a new feed. Feel free to “clone” the pipe for your own use.

Then I just needed to get the RSS feed that Yahoo provides emailed to me daily. I re-tried several of the services I explored earlier, but wound up using a familiar friend: Feedburner. Set up only took a few minutes: just go to Publicize -> Email Subscriptions.

Boom. Problem freaking solved.

How Is It Working Out?

It works pretty darn good. Thanks for asking. Here’s what today’s email looks like:

My Daily RSS Email Example

Each title is linked in a table of contents at the top, with the full posts below. This makes it super easy to scan for interesting/relevant stories.

I have these emails automatically filtered to a folder. Most days I review them but if I’m super busy they’re out of the way until I can catch up a few days later.

The only real problem that I’ve had is that Feedburner will randomly stop sending the emails from time to time. I figured out that changing the delivery time “resets” this problem for a month or two until it happens again. I prefer an afternoon delivery because I don’t want the distraction in the morning (I want to get right to work!). I toggle back and forth between 11 AM – 1 PM and 1 PM – 3 PM. As a backup option, I also have Blogtrottr sending me a daily email from the same Pipe feed. I don’t like their format as much, but if Feedburner stops sending for a day or two and I don’t realize it, I at least have my news for those days available.

In sum: this was a pain in the ass but the result has been exactly what I was looking for. Someone with some time on their hands needs to create this service!

2 comments on Rethinking How I Consume RSS

  1. Tim says:

    Really sweet solution! I have been so busy professionally and personally I’ve had to give up on non-critical reading and RSS following. I was using Pocket for a while in conjunction with Twitter and I could populate a quick to read news update and read it at my leisure. One of the best parts of pocket is it downloads to your device when synched, so if you synch ahead of getting on a plane with no wi-fi you can still get a lot done. Sadly, in the past 4+ months I’ve read nearly no tech news and only rely on the huge Adwords updates – LinkedIn has become my news source which is amazingly good with minor refinement of interests. Until I have more time available that is my MO, however I will revisit this if I can find more time!

    Have a great Thanksgiving Adam and I hope Black Friday and Cyber Monday exceed your expectations!

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