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Usually more extended thoughts by Michael Camilleri.

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A plea to remember to syndicate the revolution.

RSS in the Age of Newsletters

Isaac Halvorson informed me that feed reading service Feedbin offers individual e-mail addresses to its members for use with e-mail newsletters. Use the address provided and receive newsletter e-mails with your feeds. I still want RSS to be better supported but nice!

You may not have noticed but e-mail newsletters are kind of a big deal at the moment.

They’re not actually new, of course. Writers have been sending one-to-many publications to readers since before the Internet but the combination of always-on pocket super computers, micro-transactions and the collapse of the online advertising market have created a moment. And so in the grand tradition of the Internet, we’ve all become very excited about taking something that existed before computers and finding out what happens when you reduce the marginal costs to effectively zero.

That’s great. I like reading interesting writing and it’s hard to argue with the results. Just look at the list of the top paid newsletters on e-mail newsletter platform, Substack.1 That’s an impressive list.

But while I’m interested in reading interesting writing, I’m not interested in reading it in my e-mail. I understand why it’s successful—and e-mail is vastly preferable to private standards—but it does feel a little like we’re using a screwdriver to hammer a nail. We have technology on the Internet for displaying writing: hypertext markup language. We even have a mechanism to check if new documents written in this language have been uploaded to a website. Whither RSS?

To be fair to most newsletter platforms, they do typically offer some sort of RSS feed—usually hidden away in the bowels of view source—and so newsletters will, by and large, provide some alternative to e-mail. But not always. Just this week, I came across the beautifully designed newsletter Dense Discovery. It looked like something I might want to subscribe to but not, as it turned out, if I intended to do that via an RSS feed. No, this was a purely e-mail affair. You could read the website, I guess. A site you’d need to reload periodically to see if anything had changed. Like a savage.

Look, I get it. RSS had its chance. The people have spoken. I’m the guy at the party trying to convince whoever would listen of the superiority of vinyl, Beta, HD-DVD and WiMAX.2 Nobody wants to be that guy.

I don’t begrudge you if e-mail’s your bag. To each his/her own. RSS does often cost actual cash money and maybe that’s money you want to spend on something else. An e-mail newsletter perhaps. That’s fine. It’s merely that, if I may beseech, please don’t forget about us feed reader readers. We don’t ask for much: just some XML.

It doesn’t even need to be well-formed.3 ✺

  1. Keen-eyed readers will note that those charts don’t have a separate URL but rather are hidden behind a fragment identifier. Which doesn’t quite prove my point but also kind of proves my point. What happened to universally addressable information?

  2. But seriously: WiMAX.

  3. Please make it well-formed.