Tips: Creating a Custom, Highly Curated RSS Feed for Sharing Content.

Is RSS dead? Many folks “in the know” claim that it is and yet, it’s still hanging around, for better or worse. Me? I use it sparingly. It’s still second to none when you want to follow a site and get links to every piece of content they produce.

Until recently, I looked at RSS as mostly one way communication. You either produce the content and it gets syndicated. Or  you receive/consume the content and do with it what you will. That’s how RSS works. We all need to make our peace with it. Or do we?

What if you could create a dynamic RSS feed where you had complete and specific control over what showed up in it? What if you could share hand-picked content from anywhere on the web simply by tagging a link? That’d be pretty cool right!?

The Initial Problem

I had a good friend with similar interests and hobbies as me. As friends do, I often sent him links to stuff I thought he’d like in emails, texts, chat clients, you name it. As you can imagine, over time these links were scattered everywhere. Eventually it got to the point where if I asked if he got a chance to watch that trailer I sent him, he’d say “No, could you send it again?” and even I would have problems remembering how I sent it to him originally.

In short, it was a mess.

So I started looking in to something that could function as a master list of everything I sent him moving forward. No texts, no emails. He’d just have to remember that I created this list and check in on it whenever he thought about it. Traditional RSS is sort of what I was going for, but I didn’t want to spin up a site somewhere just for posting links for my friend. That felt like using a sledgehammer on a thumbtack.

What would’ve been perfect is if I found something on the web worth sharing, I could send it to a service, tag it specifically for my friend, and have that link added to his curated list for when he had the time to look at it later. It’d work two-fold. On the one hand, it’d always be added to, and on other, it’d be a library of cool stuff to reference down the road that would exist for as long as the service did.

Making RSS more surgical

It seemed like a tall order, but I found precisely what I was looking for with Pinboard. Boiled down, Pinboard is a bookmarking service/online repository with read later options (similar to Instapaper) and a deep, yet simple tagging system that helps keep things organized.

Quick aside up front. Pinboard is a paid service that costs $11 USD a year. If you can swing it though, you get a lot for your money and you support an indy developer that is taking online bookmark repositories to the next level.

Ok, back on task. I had been using Pinboard for over a year when I noticed one day that it dynamically creates an RSS feed for each individual tag you create 1. So, I created a tag for my friend, sent him the RSS link, and that was that! He put the feed URL into his feed reader of choice and immediately started getting the links I was tagging in Pinboard for him!

Finding the tag-specific RSS link isn’t hard but, due to Pinboard’s intentionally spartan layout/design, it may not be obvious. If you haven’t already, create a tag then click the new tag in the tag-cloud to the right. This will bring you to a page displaying a list of links under this tag. Now look for the small orange “RSS” link in the upper right, it will be next to the search field. Right click it, choose copy, then paste it into whatever way you are sharing the RSS feed.

PB_RSS

Moving forward.

To keep those links lining up for my friend, I use the bookmarklet Pinboard has created in Safari (Mac user here) and a universal iOS app called Pinner, that’s also on Android as well. Whether I’m in front of my computer, or on the go 2, both allow me to save and tag links quickly with very little effort.

That’s it! I know there are probably other services that serve up RSS in a similar fashion, but I hadn’t found one that handles it quite as well as Pinboard. Since setting up this custom RSS feed for my friend, I’ve also started using it for freelance client work. It’s an easy sell and it seems like magic to them when you show it in action.

So if you are a Pinboard user, you should definitely check out their RSS feed integration if you haven’t already. If you are looking for a better way to serve up your own custom RSS feed, give Pinboard a try! It’ll definitely have you looking at RSS in a completely different way!


  1. It’s not like I hadn’t noticed Pinboard supported RSS before. I just originally thought its capabilities were limited to a master list of any links you had set as publicly viewable.

  2. Pinner’s got a particularly wonderful extension in the iOS share sheet by the way.

The Web: The Current State of RSS

IconAs many of you might’ve heard in the last few weeks: Google’s “Google Reader” service is going bye-bye. .

But that doesn’t mean that RSS is going with it.

While I am not terribly surprised in this day and age by how many people have no idea what RSS actually is, I am very surprised by the amount of folks who think that RSS, as a technology, is synonymous with Google’s Reader service.

This notion couldn’t be further from the truth!

As it turns out, our valued RSS feeds are very much alive and well.  It’s just the medium that we all (myself included) chose to read all of these feeds in, that is going away.

So now all we have to do is choose an alternative.

Since I am in the same dilemma that many of you are in, I thought it’d be a good service to show the services I’ve been thinking of transitioning to. Here they are in no particular order of importance:

  • Feedly.com – These guys’ membership EXPLODED after Google’s announcement. Their service will take care of your mobile RSS fix, with apps on the all major mobile platforms. Desktop and laptops will have to live with the web client but from what I’ve seen, that experience is clean and pleasant to look at.
  • Newsblur is a bit more hardcore for RSS wranglers, but the added functionality comes at a price ($2 a month for anyone with more than 64 feeds) and, worse, they are no longer accepting free accounts for folks with less (a restriction that is, for now anyways, temporary). If you are willing to pony up the cash though, they offer a lot of great functionality that many other web-based services don’t, like nested folder structures for folks who like to organize their feeds, feed refreshes every minute, built in keyboard shortcuts and native mobile apps for both iOS and Android. Not bad!
  • UPDATE 06/20/2013: Black Pixel just launched the public beta of NNW 4.0. To check it out, click here to download.  –  For a Mac user, NetNewsWire is a great alternative. Die hard fans got a good shot of adrenaline after Google’s news dropped. The company that bought NNW, Black Pixel went somewhat dormant after their purchase years ago, but now with a major competitor out of the way they are gearing back up to fill that gap.  Having used NetNewsWire on my Mac and iOS (iPhone and iPad) platforms in the past, I am very comfortable in saying that, as an application, it’s a solid product! But it’s missing a very crucial bit of functionality still: feed sync between desktop and mobile platforms. This was the main reason I ditched their product years ago and it’s still the reason why I hesitate to go back. Still, they are making a renewed commitment to bringing reliable sync to their platform, so it may be worth jumping back in. If feed sync isn’t important to you at all, I can heartily recommend this service without hesitation.
  • Also in the Apple-only arena is Reeder which, up until now, has been pretty much solely catering to the Google Reader platform. The developer of the app Silvio Rizzi, has now come forward and made commitments to a multitude of feed alternatives to quell his rabid fanbase (both of which my partner in crime and I are a part of). I have the utmost trust in Rizzi’s skills. Hands down, if you are an iOS/OSX fan, the attention to detail that he puts into is native apps is far and away the best RSS experience I’ve experienced to date.  If he delivers on his promises (and I have no reason to believe he won’t) we Mac users will be well cared for.
  • Another paid web-based client that is getting some attention is feedbin. Like Newsblur, Feedbin also charges $2 a month, but it’s layout is super clean, it’s got tagging for organization, lots of import options and claims of being super speedy in its feed delivery! I haven’t used it personally, but a lot of developers I admire are getting behind them.
  • The last option I will offer is from the folks at FeedAFeverFever got a good amount of attention for its novel approach at serving up your RSS info.  Some of the attention was good, and some of it was a bit mixed. Still, I wanted to offer it up as an alternative because it’s always worth checking out the folks who are trying to do something different with a service you and I use every single day.
  • UPDATE 03/28/13 – A great recommendation from wordshepherd.comThe Old Readerhttp://www.theoldreader.com –  “It looks and acts very much like Google Reader pre-Google+, before they nuked their sharing tools. So you can follow your friends’ shared items, and comment on them, all in a self-contained, curated ecosystem.” – haven’t checked this one out yet, but I certainly appreciate the social aspects involved in this implementation. Sometimes things don’t need fixin’! Thanks David!
  • UPDATE 06/26/13Digg Reader also launched their own RSS Reader today! It’s super stripped down, but with Digg integration baked in. So if you are into Digg and want that service wedded to your RSS addiction than click here. There’s also an iOS app, with Android love  “coming in the next few weeks”.

So, those are just a smattering of the “Google Reader replacements” I’ve encountered that are getting good or, at worst, interestingly mixed press. The web-based options will always be your best ally because they are OS-agnostic. If you can find one that also offers a quality native mobile OS experience, than that will always be the icing on the cake.

If you have any alternatives that I missed, please add them in the comments below! I’ll update the post immediately with your recommendation and a link back to your site! ;)

In the meantime, good luck with whatever alternative you go with! I will certainly offer an update with whatever I end up choosing.

Honestly, the key thing to remember is that you don’t have to say goodbye to those web sites out there that have given you content in the past that you enjoy on a sporadic non-Twitter-like level.  They still exist and, in most cases, are better than ever! :)

RSS on the web hasn’t changed at all.  Far from it.  If anything, it’s just being given that all-too-rare opportunity to evolve!