Back in the R.S.S.

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tl;dr – Subscribe to my shared feed of blog posts I find interesting here. Expect a mix of comic book news, digital culture and technology. You know, the same stuff as this blog and podcast.

When Google Reader shut down and many people were scrambling to migrate to another system, I didn’t. My reaction was similar to that home organization technique. I squirreled away my subscription list off somewhere, and waited until I missed it. I didn’t, not for a long time.

Eventually I came across a reference via Thomas Gideon that he is using Tiny Tiny RSS. It is a self-hosted version of a Google Reader-like RSS reader system. I was into this as 13 years ago, I used a similar style system when I first got my own hosted box.

The first complication was that I could no longer find my squirreled away subscription list. I decided that wasn’t even a big problem and I took it as an opportunity to start from complete scratch. I subscribed to a couple of things, including Thomas’ public feed from his own instance, and away I went. One thing TTRSS is very good at is feed discovery. If you find a blog post anywhere, like from someone else’s feed, and just put that post’s URL in the subscribe field it will find the right feed. It has never failed for me on any site so far. Standardized headers for that are pretty much ubiquitous now so that job is much easier than it once was.

One of the things I liked best about Google Reader is that you could star and/or share individual posts and I did both. I also subscribed to other people’s shared feeds and discovered posts and blogs to follow that way. It was a nice, virtuous cycle. TTRSS has all of that functionality, and I am publishing articles to my shared feed as well.

Another nice thing about TTRSS is that it has a pretty good Android client for reading on your phone. In fact, I prefer the phone interface to the web although I use them both depending on what I’m sitting at.

I don’t spend nearly the time reading the blogosphere as I once did, but it feels good to get back into this world. RSS and the interconnected blog world it enables is too good an ecosystem to let wither and die. Let’s prove the “RSS is dead” prognosticators wrong by

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My Current Webcomics Reader

Some time ago on Google Plus I cast a net for an idea of a new sort of webcomics reader. Because my reading is in fits and starts and often can go weeks between sessions, Google Reader is no longer a reasonable way to read the feeds. If there are up to 20 strips of each comic, all in reverse chronological order, it requires me to scroll all the way down and then read from the bottom up as a number of my strips have some kind of continuity.

I have arrived at a solution that seems to be working for me. It is truly a hack of hacks, but like the best hacks is effectively solving a problem for me. Unfortunately, also like hacks it might not be very robust or transferrable to other people. I achieved my goal with a custom IFTTT rule:

http://ifttt.com/recipes/45673

This has prerequisites. You need an IFTTT account, a linked Dropbox account and a linked Google Reader account. You also need to have the RSS feeds for all webcomics you subscribe to in a single folder or with a consistent tag. In my rule, it is a folder named “Webcomics” but it can be named anything, it just has to match the rule you have. If you are interested in using it, you can go to the above link and clone the rule to your own account and modify it from there.

Here’s how it works. Every feed in my Google Reader’s “Webcomics” folder gets written to a file in my Dropbox. When I have time for webcomics, I open the file in my browser and then delete it. The next time I look, the top of the page will be the oldest strips I haven’t yet read. There is a quirk of the IFTTT -> Dropbox integration, in that the action to append to a text file forces it to have a .txt extension even though the content of what I’m appending is HTML. This was orignally a bug to me, but now I think of it as a feature. Because the file can get so big that I don’t read it in a single setting, effectively when I change the extension from webcomics.html.txt to webcomics.html is the point at which I freeze the file. I can read it until I finish, even if it takes a few days or weeks. Meanwhile, it will create a new webcomics.html.txt file and be happily appending that whole time period.

This is not a perfect solution. It requires that you have an internet connection as nothing is saving the comic strips to any local machine, it’s a little fugly in the page generated and has none of the management features of even the most rudimentary RSS reader. It’s on you to know what you have read, and if you have to close your browser in the middle there is no way to return to the previous point.

On the upside, all of the features I wanted in my original post are there. It preserves all the links from the original post, so if there are ads in the feed or store links or any other monetization, those are preserved in the file I read. I’ve never wanted to cheat the cartoonists out of their monetization.

I’ve been using this system since July. In that time, some of the strips I orignally followed have ended, like Kris Straub’s Starslip Crisis, and others like Scott Kurtz’ PVP have switched to not including images in the feed. Those were two of the strips that were the original impetus because both had storylines that required reading them forwards. Que sera, things live and die and change.

I’m curious if this system will be effective for anyone else that is not me. Try it out and let me know your experiences, positive or negative.