Over the weekend I found an interesting article at The Verge. In Your internet life needs a Feeds Reboot — here’s how to do it, David Pierce explores the ways you can give your algorithmic timelines a bit of a reset to make your social media better.
He even, to my vast appreciation, mentioned RSS feeds! But that’s all it was: a mention. RSS appears precisely once in the article, in the phrase “look at all the sources you follow on RSS.” That’s excellent advice and I recommend it to anyone, but a little later in the paragraph he adds the sentence “Don’t worry about adding better stuff since that tends to happen naturally over time.” I agree with him that it’s true for social media. I disagree when it comes to RSS feeds.
On social media platforms, the name of the game is keeping you engaged with the content. You don’t like that news source? Here, try this one. We think you’ll like this. Hey, you liked that thing, here’s something similar. As long as you show the faintest flicker of interest, social media platforms will try to understand you (at least enough to pigeonhole you for advertising) and constantly feed you content in an attempt to profile your interests.
When it comes to RSS feeds there isn’t really anything similar. RSS feed readers like NewsBlur will recommend feeds or list interesting feeds, but there’s no algorithm pushing you to try PC World because you like ZDNet. (The closest I’ve found is Feedly, which has an “Explore” feature. It’s fine, but I find it’s too general to bring me a steady stream of useful content.) You’re responsible for curating your own experience. Instead of up- or down-voting content, though, you should be constantly evaluating your feeds.
For maximum efficiency, you should have some kind of threshold of how much non-useful content an RSS feed generates before you abandon it, and you should use it. You should be regularly deleting RSS feeds; if you hang on to a lot of feeds that contribute nothing to your curation you’ll end up spinning your wheels and wasting time going through them. (As someone who reads literally thousands of RSS feeds AND who has as her special interest “everything,” I wrestle with this. But ResearchBuzz is better when I am ruthless while pruning my RSS feeds.)
Here’s the snag, though; you might struggle with finding new sources. If you’ve been around the Internet a while you’ll know how to winkle out an RSS feed from a Web site. Even if you’re new to RSS, you might stumble across a site that promotes its feed (that seems to happen less and less these days.) But either way, you will not be offered a plate of algorithmically-generated feed suggestions to browse through. Some feeds, like mine, link to lots of other sites, but most feeds focus on their own content. How do you find new RSS to replace the ones that don’t provide relevant content?
Here’s the secret: keyword-based RSS feeds.
Usually when we talk about RSS feeds, we’re usually talking about a feed associated with one Web site. There’s the “CNN RSS feed,” for example. But you can also get keyword-based feeds – search results for a given query that are delivered in RSS format.
I use keyword-based feeds constantly. I can’t possibly monitor every RSS feed that might mention “archive,” but I can use Google News alerts (which you can get as an RSS feed.) I can’t monitor all international news for the word “database,” but I can get Bing News RSS feeds for that keyword with a focus on specific countries.
When I use keyword-based RSS feeds, I’m discovering new resources that are least peripherally-related to my interests. (This is more true with very specific keywords, but even for a general query like “database” the news resources are somewhat relevant.) Of course, just because an article appears in a keyword-based RSS feed doesn’t mean that the article source itself has an RSS feed, but I find that they generally do.
I also find that keyword-based feeds can act as “auditions” for sources. Sometimes you’ll find that a source ends up in your keyword-based feeds over and over and over with excellent content until you have to give in and subscribe directly to the source’s RSS feed. (Looking at you, Arizona State University.)
If regular RSS feeds are difficult to find, then keyword-based feeds must be impossible right? Not so – like regular RSS feeds, they’re mostly right there in the open. You just have to know where to look. Here are three places to find keyword-based RSS feeds.
Google Alerts – https://www.google.com/alerts
Google Alerts are mostly associated with email alerts, but any Google Alert can be an RSS feed as well. Just change the last option from deliver to email to RSS feed. I also recommend you leave the “How Many” option at “only the best results” because keyword-based feeds can easily get gummed up with spam.
Once you’ve generated the RSS feed, you’ll see an RSS icon next to the feed name in your Google Alerts list. Click on that and you’ll get your feed.
I’ve written a few articles about Google Alerts that might help you when setting them up:
Bing / Bing News – https://www.bing.com/news
You might have noticed that a Google Alert as an RSS feed looks like this:
Only instead of all zeroes it’s a string of numbers. Google generates those feeds when you create an alert, but they’re not created in a pattern (at least not one that I can find) that lets you create the feeds outside of Google Alerts. Update from the future: This is wrong. Stay tuned.
Bing and Bing News’ formats for RSS feeds are much easier to understand and recreate. In fact, you can use the Bing URL patterns to create RSS feeds in bulk. Here’s what a Bing search looks like:
If you want to turn that into an RSS feed, just add &format=rss to the end:
A Bing News search works the same way:
I find Bing News’ RSS feeds find me news stories that I don’t get from Google Alerts, especially international news. There’s some overlap but not as much as you’d think! I’ve done a lot of writing about using Bing and its feeds:
WordPress.com – https://www.wordpress.com
WordPress.com generates huge amounts of content. According to its stats page, “Users produce about 70 million new posts and 77 million new comments each month.”
That’s a lot, and happily it’s as easy to create feeds for as Bing News. The most basic RSS feed format for WordPress is a feed for a tag. A tag search on WordPress looks like this:
To turn that into an RSS feed, just add /feed/ to the end:
This is the most basic way to create a WordPress RSS feed, but there are a number of tricks you can use to make really focused RSS feeds using other aspects of a blog’s content, like category or keyword. Even better, you can apply these searches to WordPress.com in toto or to individual blogs. I wrote an article about how to keep your ResearchBuzz RSS feeds super-focused using WordPress; check it out here.
RSS feeds are a critical part of monitoring the Internet for information, but it’s hard to get good feed recommendations. Whip up some keyword-based feeds, though, and you’ll have a constant source of new sites to keep your RSS feeds fresh and relevant.