Using Email as an RSS Reader


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With the Google Reader end of life announcement earlier this year I have been looking for a new RSS solution. After much browsing and consideration I have found the ideal solution, email over IMAP.

My RSS reader needed two things, access from all of my devices and synchronization of metadata between devices so that I never miss a thing. After looking around at many solutions such as The Old Reader I realized that email did what I wanted better than Google Reader ever did.

The benefits of email are better management and already-done sync. I get better management because I get better control over when I get rid of something. Rather than just having “read” and “unread” I manually delete items I have finished with, meaning that I never loose an article before I am done with it. “Already-done sync” is because it is inside my mail account. All of my devices (and my webmail) are already connected so my feeds were synced cross-device as soon as I got my first message, no extra set up.

Doing it!

Many feeds provide email notifications and if not I use the fantastic Blogtrottr service to get emails about any feed. It supports PubSubHubbub for really fast notifications but falls back to polling if it isn’t available.

Managing It!

The problem now is that if you subscribe to a lot of feeds you will get a lot of emails in your inbox. The simple solution is to filter them. There are many solutions, for example Blogtrottr sends all mail from the same address, so you can filter based on that and stick your feed updates in a folder or apply a label. My preferred method is using a “+ address” which is supported by some mail servers. Generally if there is a plus sign in the username part of the email address the portion before the + is used to deliver the mail and the bit after the plus (the subaddress) is used by the receiver for some reason. For example a social network might allow email replies to where the POSTID us used to identify the post that you are replying to. I use +news for low-priority updates that I just occasionally check. I filter these into their own folder and turn off notifications for that folder so that they don’t bother me.

There you go, your synchronized, cross-device, easy to use, well-supported RSS/Atom/whatever feed manager. I have been using this for a while now and am really enjoying it. Goodbye Google Reader, you won’t be missed.