This May Be A New Concept To Some
- But newsletters aren't the best way to get updates. . .
I’ve been online since the Internet opened for business in Australia, the mid 1990s, and I always wanted to get the news, the comics, the latest info on gadgets and technology and weather and - pretty much the whole shebang, and so I’d get newsletters from dozens of sites which contained their latest articles.
The thing with newsletters was that I always seemed to have around 100 newsletters - from news sources, blogs, cartoon sites, and research sites - arriving. Some, I had some control over how often I’d get them. Some arrived weekly meaning I could be six days out of date with that content.
And on the other side of the coin, some sites sent out an email as soon as a post went live, and/or had a prolific team writing for their site, and I’d get 40 emails a week just from them, never mind the other 99 newsletter senders.
In this article I’ll tell you how I cleared out a mass of emails from my inbox forever, started getting my news when I wanted it, not when the writer / publisher wanted to stuff it into my inbox, and in fact I think I saved myself half a dozen ulcers in the process.
I’ll explain the differences between a newsletter that gets in your face and your inbox, and a newsreader that puts you in control. And at the end I’ll suggest a starting point for getting into newsreaders and talk you through how to set my suggested one up and get going with a few of my blogs.
My Bombshell Moment
..was discovering a site that let me type in the newsfeed URLs (also known as the RSS links) into a list that the site kept only for me, and when I went to the connected page, I’d get a list of all the new articles on those sites to browse through at my leisure. I could now cancel all their newsletters and instead just open that page anytime to see all the latest posts from my favourite sites. At my speed and on my schedule…
My email inbox went from 150 a day down to about 5 a day, and if I wanted to go to that newsreader site page I could get updates as often as I wanted to, no waiting for the weekly newsletter or being avalanched with 50 updates a day.
That particular newsreader site went the way of the dodo but I had my list of RSS links saved (OPML files, which I’ll explain a bit further down) and dropped them into the (then really new and shiny) Google Reader site and immediately had all the same sites, the reader had slightly different features and page layouts, but it meant I hardly missed a news item.
I could now take my pick of newsreaders, and take my list of feeds to whichever one I wanted.
And then Google closed their Reader, but by then I’d already moved on the the one I still use today.
I tried a whole slew of newsreaders, and some were free but gave a free 1 or 2 week trial, some were pay from the get-go, and a few were either forever free or else they have a basic forever free plan.
A quick comparison between newsreaders and newsletters follows:
With newsletters, you ‘sign up’ to a newsletter at a site. The site has an RSS link, which is a site syndication link, i.e. it contains a list of links to the latest articles as they are posted on the site.
The newsletter software usually runs on some other website and all that site does is keep a list of subscribers and which RSS links (aka ‘feeds’) that subscriber is connected to. Then on whatever schedule the author has set (it can be per item, per day, per week, per month, or whatever) this website uses all those syndication links and collects all articles that are new since the subscriber received their last email and puts them into the new email, then sends it.
The result is that you will need to get a subscription from each site that has articles you want to read, and that means you receive multiple newsletters from multiple publishers on multiple schedules (immediate, daily, weekly, etc) and will quickly lead to inbox fatigue. Go on, ask me how I know this.
The newsletter site therefore consists of a newsreader, a scheduler, and an emailer. All you need to do to ditch the inbox carnage is to just use the newsreader portion of this arrangement directly:
Newsreaders can be grouped into two types: There are online newsreaders such as I’ve been describing above; And apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, Apple, and Android, etc; And some that work across all platforms, i.e. you set your newsfeeds list once on one version and then it’s accessible across every version.
Your mileage may vary, but for me, a simple, free, web page based newsreader is plenty. Note: some free sites offer basic features only and you need to join for more feastures. The one thing these so-called freemium sites almost always limit is the number of site feeds they’ll scrape for your articles.
The upshot is that once you find the RSS / Atom / JSON / whatever feed links (the ‘syndication links’) for a site you can unsubscribe from their newsletter and get rid of inbox clutter. In the next section I’ll talk you through the newsreader I’ve used for more than ten years and which still ticks all the boxes for me - for free.
Using A Newsreader
I’m going to - without recommendation - give you a link to Feedly here, because I have just under 50 feeds there for free and I’m not sure but I think they may allow quite a bit more. What you don’t get for free on Feedly are things like an AI assistant that will arrange your articles with the most recent most interesting to you at the top, Leo (the AI assistant’s name) can also search other sources for articles that may interest you etc.
I just scroll down my little list of 40 feeds which generate around 120 news articles a day and pick the ones I really want to read, then mark the day as read. This takes me 10 - 15 minutes compared to the hour that wading through newsletters used to take every day.
So now if you want to subscribe say to Grumpy Old Guy, go to Feedly and click “get started for free” and set up a free account. You’ll get a Welcome! page and since you want to follow blogs and websites in one place, click the “Follow blogs and websites in one place” control. (But then skip down a few paragraphs to OPML where I’ve set up an OPML file - see next section - to simplify things and save you having to enter six links and deal with each one.)
If you already have a list of feeds you follow you’ll have an OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) file around and can add it here, otherwise, to (for example) subscribe to this blog you’d enter https://grumps.substack.com/feed into the “Discover the best feeds for any topic“ text section there. You’d repeat this for every newsfeed you want to follow, so to get all my blogs you’d do this five more times.
Feedly will go and verify it and as it’s a valid feed, you can click on the “The Grumpy Old Guy” link that’ll pop up once Feedly’s done checking. Once you click it, one last sanity check - you’ll get to see “SIMILAR FEEDS” if this wasn’t the exact blog you thought it was, or “FOLLOW” and - click FOLLOW, create a folder name, and that’s it, you’ll now have the feed to this blog in your sidebar.
If for some reason you end up past that initial setup page, there’s also a + sign on the left sidebar, click that and it’ll get you to the feed input page where you can enter any website, blog, feed link, or OPML file as per the last paragraph - and just like that you’re on your way to being a news junkie like me. . .
You can create folders - I have folders like ‘tech’ and ‘humour’ and ‘world news’ and about six other sections - and I suggest you do because these help you zero in if your list is large, so I can (for example) get all my latest humour fix without having to wade through all the others. Once you’ve created a folder, Feedly kindly provides an “All” folder as well.
You can read all your newest articles under the All folder or you can skim the headlines of a particular folder and mark them as read and it’ll only affect items in that folder, leaving other folders unchanged.
And of course you can drop feeds if they’re no longer interesting to you, save your personal list as an OPML file to your computer so that you can put them all into any other newsreader software or site you want to try, and even edit the raw OPML file once you’ve had a look inside a copy of yours and see how simple they are inside.
Which brings me to:
OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) files are specifically organised files which you can read with notepad or any other text editor and which allow you to save your list of feeds for backup and for exporting into a new newsreader software.
Adding an OPML file to your newsreader won’t overwrite your whole setup and will just get added to your newsreader’s existing feeds.
And they just make it easier if a conscientious publisher (like me, ahem) can provide you with a specifically-composed list you can use to grab all their articles. Like this one:
(NOTE: I’ve created an OPML file for you that has all six of the links below so feel free to click here and download the file to send to Feedly, or right-click it and “Copy link address” and paste that into Feedly. Feedly will handle it like a champ and give you a chance to follow each blog or not, and add folders to organise them into. It just makes it easier for you to get set up.)
Here’s the list of RSS links to my blog stuff:
They refer to:
Grumpy Old Guy
O Hai Corona
TEdALOG Lite II
The Zen CookBook (not recipes)
There are other sites I have content on but they either don’t provide a feed or else I’m not sure, like Youtube and Twitch etc, but as and if I find them I’ll post them here and my other blogs.
For now, try Feedly and unchain yourself from the newsletter tyranny, and honestly - try all six of those blogs of mine, they all deal with different core topics and I seem to go in bursts between one post a week between all of them and then suddenly ten posts a week when when there’s a load of new stuff. Scheduling? We don’t need no steeeenking scheduling!
As always, get activate get agitated get out there and change the world!
Just git offa muh lawn before yuh do it.