Email is still King

In 2012 I wrote this post, describing my rss2email setup. Since then, I’ve moved on to a host of other rss readers. Notable ones among them are:
  • Newsblur
  • Digg Reader
  • Feedly
Having tried so many of them, I had a clear idea of what was most important for my needs. Newsblur was feature rich, but moving from one post to the next took just that little bit longer than I liked. Digg Reader was lightning fast in that aspect, and is what I’d recommend if someone wants a simple, fast, hosted solution.

But along the way I also ended up owning a couple of non-android phones. The sparse collection in Microsoft’s app store made me realize how important it was not to depend on apps that were tied to a single product.

So I’ve now come full circle, back to rss2email. Fastmail is my email host of choice. I still have more than 70 feeds, some of which are pretty high traffic. So I’ve setup three folders: ‘alerts’, ‘hightraffic’ and ‘toread’.

Once I had some rules set up to redirect most mails to ‘alerts’, and the noisy ones to ‘hightraffic’, my workflow was ready:

During my daily commute, I use the incredible K-9 Mail app on my android phone to skim through the feeds. Any feed that deserves a deeper look gets moved to the ‘toread’ folder. The hightraffic ones are read only when I have time to spare. When I have access to my laptop or desktop, I use the fastmail web interface, which supports vim-like keybindings for quick navigation.

I’ve also moved my self-hosted wordpress blog (again!) back to blogger, which has an option to send a post by email. So I’m typing this as en email that will be sent to blogger shortly.

To recap, I have a solution that is fast, self-hosted, and flexible enough to allow convenient workflows tuned to my free time and connectivity.

However hard a service tries to ‘kill’ email, it’s a testament to how conveniently flexible it is in allowing setups like this.

Reader Alternatives

Google has announced that Reader is going to be shut down soon. Being an RSS addict, this doesn’t affect me much because I’ve spent a lot of my time trying alternatives all these years. RSS applications have a nice amount of interop between each other, since an OPML file is all you need to export/import your feeds. So it isn’t too hard to switch to an alternative. Here are some I’ve tried and approve of:

  • Rnews – Self hosted. This is still hosted on my website and is my go-to reader for relaxed browsing. It supports categories, is fast, and my favourite: does not have an unread count.

  • Newsblur – Web/Android. This is my current favourite. I liked it enough to cough up for a yearly subscription. It has a decent Android app, and can occassionally get flaky with some feeds, but is overall an extremely good application.

  • Google Currents – Android. This is a google service, so be warned 🙂 I put this is because it caches articles offline, so it is my favourite for offline browsing in my cab every day.

  • rss2email – Self hosted/Email. I love both email and rss so this is the best of all worlds. You run this python app as a cron job and add a few feeds to it. Periodically, you get an email each time a feed is updated. I use this for low-traffic feeds.

**Update**

  • TT-RSS – Self hosted/Android. This is actually the one I’ve settled with now. rss2email continues to mail me on low traffic sites, but for heavy, daily usage, ttrss beats all the others by a mile. It is self hosted, has an android app that is well worth the little it costs, and doesn’t have annoying delay that newsblur does whenever a folder is loaded.

My Email Client is my RSS Reader

rss2email is a kick-ass RSS solution that I’ve been using for quite awhile now. It works exactly the way it sounds: You provide it a list of feeds, and it mails you hourly when one or more of them get updated. I now have 100+ feeds added to it. Every morning I log in and skim through the 30-40 emails that come straight to my ‘alerts’ folder. Here is what a random day’s email looks like for me:
I hit 10000 mails in this folder last week. Here is what I’ve learnt:

r2e-thumb-500x298-12
  • Don’t use this to subscribe for web sites that update frequently. I have direct bookmarks for sites like the Guardian and Metafilter.
  • Pictures/Videos don’t work too great. Obviously, because any decent email client blocks external images.
  • Some good sites have feeds for specific tags in case you don’t want the rest of the content. Not Exactly Rocket Science’s great link round up is a fine example.

I’m always on the lookout for newer feed readers, but this is the one I’ve settled with quite comfortably.

The RSS Overload Dilemma

ArsTechnica has a post on how poisonous RSS can get. Having moved to Google Reader recently, I’ve felt the pain of having an annoying unread count constantly in my notifier. The first time I signed up to Reader, I added a bunch of preconfigured ‘bundles’ that added an overwhelming number of feeds.

What I’ve settled on these days is a much simpler system. I’ve streamlined Reader to show less than a hundred low-volume subscriptions. There are less than a dozen other sites that I visit directly every day, so they’ve been removed. These are handily accessible from my Opera Speed Dial.

I still like my earlier feed reader and continue to use it: Rnews. I love its interface, and it is far easier to scroll through a bunch of feeds when Rnews displays it all in one page:

rnews-thumb

Any link that has long term value gets stored in my bookmarking application. For skimming past daily news, Rnews + Google Reader + direct access seems to suffice.

Getting rid of old feeds

So. I’m learning Perl and needed a simple project to test out. My rss2email list has more than a 100 feeds that are checked hourly. Unfortunately I have no way of knowing which feeds are broken, or no longer being updated. That seemed like a simple enough thing to test out. Enter check_feeds.pl. This simple script accepts a single file as input (the file contains rss feeds, one per line). Running it gives a list of broken feeds, and those that have not been updated in the past two months.

I used XML::Feed to fetch and parse the feeds. It did crash on at least a dozen feeds in my list, so I regrettably had to comment them out for now. Future versions should fix this to make it more usable. Here is what a sample run looks like:

thaum ~/code/perl$ ./check_feeds.pl feedlist.txt
Feeds older than60 days  are:
http://teddziuba.com/atom.xml
http://feeds.feedburner.com/emacsblog
http://emacs.wordpress.com/feed/
http://acmel.wordpress.com/feed/
http://feeds2.feedburner.com/LinuxSystemAdminsBlog
<snip>

Dead feeds that could not be read are:
#bad#http://www.debian.org/News/weekly/dwn.en.rdf
#bad#http://stevehanov.ca/blog/index.php?atom
#bad#http://www.nintendolife.com/feeds/reviews
<snip>

And here is the actual file itself.
Update: Ok, I finally signed up on GitHub, so the script is available there as well. Hopefully a few months down the line the quality of my code will improve 🙂
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