Reclaiming RSS and Replacing Social Media

Posted on 12th July 2020

We don't have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.
— Erik Qualman

Depending on which year you were born, you may not remember a time when we used to receive people and businesses' online updates on our timelines as soon as they become available. It was a time when there was no such thing as surveillance capitalism neither an algorithm to decide what people wanted to see, people simply used RSS (Really Simple Syndication).

What is RSS?

RSS is basically a web feed, it was created in 1999, and it has been around since then. It is simple to implement if you're a content creator and simple to use if you want to consume content, even on mainstream social media.

There is no Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram in the middle manipulating your timeline for profit. People interested in following your content, just subscribe to your feed to receive your updates in chronological order.

For most basic websites and blogs, RSS feeds probably are automatically implemented and your browser may even be able to detect them on its own. On the other hand, widely used social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) usually do not provide an RSS feed, they want you to create an account so they can feed off your personal data to let you follow friends and family updates especially "curated" for you.

Fortunately, there is always a way, and this is what this post is about: getting an RSS feed for the most used social media.

Instagram

Instagram is basically a photo and video-sharing app that was acquired by Facebook back in 2012. The only way for you to follow people's updates is to create an account for yourself and start following people on their platform. Even if you want to just quickly look at someone's profile via the web, it blocks you from scrolling down after a few updates. That's when Bibliogram comes into action.

Bibliogram is an ad-free website that doesn't require you to sign up, it collects data from Instagram's public profiles and organizes them into a simple page that allows users to download media and, best of all, it generates RSS feeds.

If you're looking forward to interacting with people and businesses, Bibliogram may not be for you, it doesn't let you anonymously post, like, comment or follow neither reveals content from private profiles and it doesn't preserve deleted posts. However, it lets you subscribe to profiles' updates and receive them as soon as they are posted.

If you do want to keep the social aspect of Instagram, e.g. like, comments, stories and etc, you could try out PixelFed which is an ad-free, free, decentralized, and open-source photo and video sharing alternative to Instagram.

Twitter

Twitter is a microblogging service created back in 2006. It used to provide RSS feeds for people's profiles so you could subscribe to their tweets without signing up for an account. Well, it doesn't do that anymore, and unfortunately, you may feel forced to trade your personal data to follow whoever you find interesting.

As we have Bibliogram for Instagram, we also have Nitter for Twitter. Nitter is an ad-free open-source website that prevents Twitter from tracking you, provides RSS feeds so you can follow people's tweets and it's about 90% lighter than twitter to load, helping you save mobile data.

Although you can see tweets only from public profiles along with media attached to it, you can't anonymously interact with them, meaning that you can't like, reply nor retweet. If you like the social interactions of twitter, you could give Mastodon a try. It is a free, decentralized, and open-source alternative to Twitter.

Facebook

As far as I'm concerned, there is no website, similar to Bibliogram or Nitter, that can generate RSS feeds for Facebook. In cases like this, you can use projects like RSS Bridge that creates RSS feeds for websites that don't provide one.

RSS Bridge is a free, decentralized, and open-source project with several available instances like this one that you can use, or you can host your own. With RSS Bridge, you can follow Facebook profiles, pages, and groups via RSS and with no need for a Facebook account of your own.

At this point, it goes without saying, but I'm gonna say it anyway; since you don't have an account, you can't interact with the publications. However, if you want to have a similar social experience with no ads, you can try an open-source, free and decentralized alternative to Facebook called diaspora.

Final remarks

You should keep in mind that websites usually keep their feeds in pages such as /feed, /rss, /feed.xml, /rss.xml or /feeds but, hopefully, they'll keep a link in plain sight so you don't have to guess or contact them.

There are tons of feed readers available for all platforms including desktop and mobile, just search for them on the respective software or app stores for your platform. If you want a feed for this blog, you can check our feeds page. There you'll find RSS feeds for our blog in both English and Portuguese.

Is this your first time reading about RSS? Have you heard of it before but never cared for it? Have you been using it for a while now? I'd love to read about your experience and I hope I could help you see that there's true social interaction outside mainstream social media that do not want you sharing your content outside their ecosystem.

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