On RSS Feeds

As I work on this website, I wasn't sure if I should add an RSS feed. I'm still not sure, but I added one anyway

RSS feeds are great1. If you don't know what they are, they're an XML file2 that a site operator can use to advertise when a site is updated. This is done by putting entries into the RSS feed describing what's new, and then someone will use a feed reader to grab the feed every so often. The feed reader will let the user know if something is new, and the person can decide to read it or not.

I'm of several opinions about this.

First, for sites that update a lot, it's kind of nice to be able to just get a list of the two dozen stories that got posted since lunch3 and pick and choose the ones you want to look at instead of trying to find the thing you wanted in the never-ending continually-updating reverse-chronological timeline.

It's also nice, once you decide that you want to check on more than a handfull of websites to be able to check them all in one place (i.e. your feed reader) instead of bookmarking them, checking each one individually, hunting for updated pages4, and so on.

RSS can also be used to syndicate content on other websites. In practice, though, this seems rare. A lot of people who run news blogs, for example, seem to be overprotective of their own content, even though they're all summarizing the same press releases.

So, RSS feeds have some benefits, and I use them to subscribe to a handful of sites.

But, what if youre site is one of the few remaining sites on the Internet that's not a blog5? What if you only update occasionally instead of constantly?

RSS feeds can be good here, too, because it saves you from visiting some site, hunting around, and getting disappointed that there's been no update since the last time you checked, or you visit the site and you miss the updated content for whatever reason.

But, RSS feeds have some drawbacks, too.

A big one is trying to find a balance of how much information to put in an RSS feed. If you put the full content of the updated page in the feed, then nobody will visit your site. If you put just a link without enough description, nobody will click on the link and they won't visit the site, either6.

If you exclusively use RSS feeds to interact with websites, all you ever see is the new stuff. You miss out on all of the other stuff that was put on the site before you started subscribing, unless you go looking for it7.

I also have a suspicion that a lot of people tread their RSS reader like they do their Facebook friends list or their Twitter lists or their LinkedIn contacts, or whatever. They just add every RSS feed they ever come across so that they have a constant stream of more content than any reasonable person could consume in a lifetime delivered to them every single day. This isn't really a concern I have, exactly, I think you should be able to use your computer in just about any way you want. I just don't understand the compulsion that some people have to hoarding more digital content than they could ever conceivably do anything with8,9

This site is different. It's different from anything that I've ever done, and it's different from what's generally expected that a website should be these days. I started it as a place where I could put up a few files so I could keep track of my burgeoning video game collection, and it turned into... whatever it is now. I didn't really consider putting an RSS feed on it because I didn't think it was worth my time to implement a notification system where I could notify myself that I made a change to my own stuff.

Eventually, though, after a couple of months of tinkering around, I started adding and changing things. I started writing stuff. I turned the Index page into a de-facto "What's New" to keep track of what I was doing, and then the bots came. I added a sitemap10 that they could use to find the content on this page. And, after I did that, I decided to go all the way and implement a basic RSS feed.

I did it mostly because someone might accidentally get here via some search engine or something some day, and they'll complain in my general direction that I don't have one.


  1. [Citation needed]
  2. In fact, they're just about the only kind of XML file that anyone but me seems to like, but that's another article for another day
  3. I also have an issue with sites that update a hundred times a day, which just turns into noise, but that's another article
  4. Websites used to make this easy by providing a "What's New" page that would list changes made to the site in a reverse-chronological order, or whatever order they felt like.
  5. A website that's not a blog? That's not a real thing!</inconceivable>
  6. I occasionally hear complaints that it's difficult to monetize RSS feeds, but website monetization is not something that I concern myself with, so we won't go into that here.
  7. Of course, if the site is a 'news' 'blog' that updates fifty times a day, most of the stuff that's more than a few days old probably isn't worth going through anyway.
  8. These are the same people who have 40,000 unread emails and 60,000 read emails in their inboxes because they've never deleted anything in their entire lives, people who compulsively download every movie and television show ever made to put on their home Plex server 'just in case', people who take their entire catalog of 250,000 hours of music with them for their one hour commute on the subway, people who take their entire library of 5,000 e-books with them when they just want to read one, and so on.
  9. Okay, that's not strictly true, I kind of do understand it. You can look at my game inventories and see that I sometimes have those tendencies, too
  10. Which, I guess, is a second kind of XML file that not everyone hates

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