Standards like RSS are maybe the most underrated and underutilized feature of the modern web. RSS feeds are plain text files that every website publishes at a fixed address, with an explicit link or the common RSS icon. Those feeds are continuously rewritten with headlines, excerpts and links to the full versions of all the latest additions to that website. Then, using programs called RSS readers, or aggregators, you can automatically download and read as many RSS feeds you want, whenever you want, in one window. It’s hard to overstate how great this is, because:
- RSS saves time. Lots of time. There is little more efficient than one single “entry point,” usable even offline, for all sorts of news, from major events to friends’ blog postings and … nothing else.
- RSS feeds are unfiltered. No algorithms there. Unlike what happens inside social media, with RSS you are always sure to download all the news, and you’re always free to ignore or prioritize them as you wish. With RSS, the only filter is your own conscious selection of news sources, so choose responsibly!
- RSS is not centrally monitored. All your data stays with you. Behavior tracking remains inside your own computer, if it happens at all.
Basically, the only thing wrong with RSS today may be that too many websites hide this option from their readers. Let’s see how to use this wonderful standard with my favorite RSS readers for Linux.
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4 great RSS readers for Linux users
The main purpose of this article is to inspire readers to try the efficiency and privacy of the RSS way; therefore, I deliberately present only four RSS programs with these characteristics: They are all stand-alone tools that do not require a web server or external databases to work; they all run on Linux and, in some cases, other operating systems; and (with one exception) they can all be installed quickly without problems, on any modern distribution. Here are four RSS readers (in more or less random order) that Linux users should check out.
Behind a really strange name, RSSOwlnix (Figure A) has a lot of qualities. To begin with, it handles without problem all main syndication formats, not just the original RSS. It has a good search function that you can make even more powerful by diligently applying your own labels to news. Even better, RSSOwlnix can remember searches and present them as if they were customized RSS feeds.
This tool can also automatically highlight headlines containing predefined keywords and save important articles in its own archive. RSSOwlnix has a great, semi-automatic RSS feed importer, and may have the best online documentation of the pack besides a built-in tutorial accessible by pressing the F1 key.
Liferea (Figure B) is probably the quickest aggregator to try, as it seems to be the one that’s installable straight from standard repositories and package managers of most major distributions. While I have never had opportunity to test this particular feature, its authors declare that Liferea can extract headlines even from HTML5 websites without actual feeds. In any case, Liferea can download full articles besides their excerpts and even play podcasts (because yes, RSS isn’t limited to syndicated text) or show comics, as in Figure C.
A particularly important feature of Liferea, which may be enough to choose it for some users, is its capability to log into web-based, multi-user RSS aggregators like TinyTinyRSS or TheOldReader. By combining Liferea with accounts on those services, you may build your very own custom stream of news that is accessible from any computer and easily archived on your own desktop.
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No matter how short, no roundup of applications for Linux desktops would be complete without at least one terminal-based program. With RSS aggregators, the choice, at least for me, is easy: Newsboat (Figures E and F), which also runs on FreeBSD, macOS and likely, if you feel like compiling it from sources, on any other Unix flavor around.
Like Liferea, Newsboat can play podcasts, categorize your feeds and label single news as you wish, and filter out any article about uninteresting topics.
As Figures E and F show, it would be impossible to get distracted by anything while using Newsboat. Its true power is the ability to configure keyboard shortcuts to browse headlines faster or execute your own macros to go even faster. If that’s not enough, there is a query language to set meta feeds, feed pre-processing capabilities and, as with Liferea, integration with online RSS aggregators.
Try these RSS aggregators, and let us know in the article comments how it goes.