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Every now and then people ask me how I use RSS feeds to help synthesize information. Awhile back, I shared a screenshot of what my RSS feed looks like and a couple of people asked for more details about what RSS is and how to use it to have frequent encounters with things one might to make notes about.
Now that Readwise has self-serve onboarding for subscribers, I thought I'd talk a little bit about how I use it to help curate useful notes in Obsidian... although my method doesn't require Readwise, the self-serve onboarding transition means I'm finally allowed to share screenshots ;)
What is it?
RSS (“real simple syndication”) is a protocol, a standard set of rules that allow electronic devices to communicate with each other. It’s similar to an API or the standardized way we use radio waves to send information from radio stations to car radios (or your phone, but I digress). In the case of RSS, it basically lets websites talk to content aggregators, which put together new posts from a variety of different sources into one combined, chronological feed under your control (instead of being at the mercy of an algorithm or having to visit 10+ different sites to find everything you’re interested in).
It’s similar to how email is a host-neutral protocol, except RSS is for content instead of conversations.
What can I do with it?
The vast majority of web publications and podcasts put out an RSS feed; it’s a stock feature of Wordpress, which powers over a third of all the internet’s websites. Popular newsletter hosting services like Substack and Ghost also provide RSS feeds. Newsletter services that don’t (like Mailchimp and Convertkit) can usually be turned into an RSS feed with services like kill-the-newsletter. Even forum software like Discourse, which is what the Obsidian forum uses, supports RSS. For example, according to my RSS app, over 400 people are currently following the feed for Obsidian Update Announcements.
How do I use it?
I am personally in the habit of using the free tier of Feedly for truncated or “complicated” feeds (like reddit threads and ScienceDaily) that I like to “click through” to the original site to read once I’ve identified something interesting, and then use the Readwise Reader extension to highlight useful things. If I just want to take notes without highlighting, I do that in Obsidian using the method I described in the LYT Conference (you can skip ahead to 14:54).
For things I my feed, generally I divide them into 5 categories:
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