Control Your Own Content with RSS and AntennaPod
One of the easiest ways avoid spending time on social media is to curate your own news and media feeds. This can be a little fiddly to set up but does not have too steep a learning curve. The specific tools I will look at today are RSS feed aggregators for news, and AntennaPod for podcasts.
I only listen to a handful of podcasts, but I listen religiously. Limiting the number of podcasts I subscribe to helps avoid guilt of missing episodes, or the chore of 'catching up'. Good privacy-related podcasts I listen to are:
- The Surveillance Report: a weekly update of all data breaches and other privacy-related news. I like the way the presenters respect my time and (usually) don't go off on tangents; and, when they do, it's usually justified and entertaining.
- Opt Out: this just started up again, after a very, very long hiatus. Hurray! Seth (from Seth for Privacy) models a balanced, open-minded, well-informed interviewing style that is sorely needed in the privacy-discussion space. Seth is the antidote to tribalism.
- Monero Talk: Douglas Tuman and his partner Sunita give weekly updates on Monero and host interesting guests from the crypto and privacy fields. I like the enthusiastic vibe and the fact the show's focus is always on Monero as a private digital currency, not a get-rich-quick scheme. The positivity on Monero Talk helped get me through Covid and got me interested in XMR.
In order to reduce time on screens, I limit my podcast listening to one main device. I do have the podcast app installed on my Light Phone 2 as a backup, but I mostly listen at home on a SIM-free Google Pixel 3a smartphone on which I have installed CalyxOS. I tried a few podcast players on the F-Droid store and stuck with the open source podcast manager AntennaPod.
AntennaPod has a clear, simple interface that works well. It is free, has no adds and the software is open source. I have not had to register or log in. Having one dedicated app for podcasts (rather than getting updates on various social media feeds or via email) helps keep engagement with devices to a minimum, especially if you turn off your screen while listening.
News via RSS
For a clear definition of RSS, I am going to defer to Wikipedia:
RSS (RDF Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication) is a web feed that allows users and applications to access updates to websites in a standardized, computer-readable format. Subscribing to RSS feeds can allow a user to keep track of many different websites in a single news aggregator, which constantly monitor sites for new content, removing the need for the user to manually check them.
I cannot explain the technical wizardry going on behind the scenes, but on the user's end, you get a neat, up-to-date overview of the headlines from all your favourite news sites, blogs and financial reports. It is fantastically simple and good.
If you want to grab a website's RSS feed, look for this symbol:
If you cannot find the RSS symbol on the site, you can usually still find or create an RSS feed from a website, but you might need a tool to help you do that.
RSS is old Internet technology that has fortunately experienced a small revival. I discovered RSS in the early 2010s when I learned about Google Reader. I loved being able to curate my own feeds, and I was impressed with how efficiently read articles were marked or archived. But in 2013, Google Reader was discontinued due to a decline in interest in RSS.
The disappearance of Google Reader happened long before I became interested in privacy and minimalism, but this was the first time, as far as I can recall, that I began hunting for less-well known alternatives, something I do a lot today. After a few dire experiences, I landed on a site called Protopage. As far as I am aware, Protopage has no privacy-focused agenda at all, and it looks dated, but I must admit I love using it. A customised home page on Protopage looks like a personalised website from an bygone era, but I have not found its equal in the way it organises RSS feeds, to-do lists, bookmarks, calendars and more in its small, adjustable windows on tabbed pages. I wish the personalised home page had become the norm for all content management, but instead we got the Facebook wall and algorithms. Pity. I can be glad at least that there has been a resurgence in RSS feeds; for a while I worried that one of the best Internet technologies was going to disappear due to lack of interest.
Alternative RSS Aggregators
I have tried using Thunderbird Mail as an RSS feed aggregator after reading this interesting article, but in practice I found the unattractive presentation, with all the feeds listed in order, meant I never engaged with the content. I have also just read about this recommendation from kindred spirit Gunther's Guides about the Tiny Tiny RSS aggregator, and I would like to try that sometime soon.
To complete this post, I will list some of the privacy-focused feeds that are in my aggregator:
- The Monero Standard: a regular financial report and news update for XMR. It's simple and clear. I like that each update contains links to further reading, which they call 'Study Time'.
- Seth for Privacy's Blog: this is not regularly updated, but I like to have it in my RSS feed as a reminder of the good content that is on there, and to keep up with any updates.
- Opensource.com and TechHut: blogs about open source software and Linux.
- Bear Blog Trending Posts: Bear Blog's own Discovery feed. This content is often not privacy-focused, but I like the fact that it's a stream of blog posts you can only read and not comment on. I've been using Bear Blog for this blog and think Herman, the developer, has created a fantastic tool for minimalist, privacy-oriented writers.
I do subscribe to some podcasts on Twitter and Mastodon, but I am not very active on social media. One result of mainly engaging via the AntennaPod player is that I miss out on some of the 'heads up' posts, live moments and surveys.
RSS is quite fiddly at first. You have to overcome a bit of a barrier, one that is maybe just high enough to put a lot of people off.
Subscription podcast or news feeds might require copying and pasting a specific link, which feels old-school.
I had a lot of trouble listening to podcasts on the Light Phone 2. The app wasn't good at remembering your place on returning to an unfinished episode. I believe they have now ironed out those issues, making the Light Phone 2 podcast app one of the simplest ways to listen to podcasts.
Current use and looking ahead
I love both AntennaPod and Protopage. Even though the latter is not really a privacy-focused platform, as far as I can tell, it has been nice to have landed on tools with some longevity.
Most of the specific podcasts and blogs mentioned above can be found on my Links page.
You can check out Gunther's Guides excellent Resources & Recommendations page here.
Demo page for Protopage
Wikipedia entry on RSS
Bear Blog's Discovery feed
Tiny Tiny RSS
One reader recommended these two RSS readers:
I appreciate the feedback and am curious to try them out!
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