Blog discovery with Feed Wrangler streams

The good side of changing your workflow

Two months using Feed Wrangler as my RSS paid replacement service has brought a lot of thought into the apps I use on my laptop and iOS devices. As Shawn Blanc rightly points out on his post on the future of feed reading, so far "the biggest pain point has been learning and using new apps". Although I praised the business model and the personal motivations behind the project when I reviewed Feed Wrangler, its commercial success will be down to how good the apps supporting it are.

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A part of choosing Feed Wrangler had to do with the third-party support of apps I like. In practice this has been a disappointment, as the Reeder experience I knew was based on Google Reader folders and the Mac and iPad app that are now out of the equation. This leaves me with learning to use ReadKit for the desktop and keep the free Feed Wrangler app on both the iPhone and iPad. When I say disappointment I mean they are not nearly as good as the ones they are replacing. Not exactly the same experience I used to have, but one that has for once led me to do a proper RSS spring-cleaning and some unexpected new uses.

Keeping only feeds for daily reading

The first step after importing the whole OMPL file with the subscriptions might as well be removing the ones you barely read and even sites that don't exist anymore. I can tell you I had more than a handful that hadn't been updated in a year. Now all you need to do is to recreate some folders according to topics using Feed Wrangler's smart streams. This can be done on the web interface or on the iOS apps, although they are both quite convoluted. I begin choosing a name for the folder, Apple news for example, and then select the unread items from feeds of sites like TUAW and MacRumors. This is the simplest method to replicate folders with the smart stream functionality.

In my case, grouping feeds into folders doesn't always work. Some sites like The Verge or iMore publish a lot of articles daily without a common theme, which can get a little overwhelming. For those I prefer to keep them on separate ones.

There are also some topics that you only want to read when you're in the mood, like some decoration, home tips and cooking sites I like to check out when I'm lazy during the weekend. Using smart streams for the moment as well as the type of content has worked pretty well too.

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The third option is result of the previous two and the one I have come to appreciate more. After getting rid of all the old RSS and grouping the ones I like in folders, I just have the need to bring some new content and put it together somehow. That's what I like to do with a special folder when I subscribe so I remember to check out the sites and blogs I discover that could be of interest. Without putting them in a folder they might remain lonely and forgotten or even buried under articles of sites that post a lot. Keeping a smart stream for new sites I discover keeps them in a relevant space so I remember to check out what they are about.

Starting your own discovery folder

Whenever someone links or quotes someone that sounds interesting I'll go to the homepage to copy the main URL on my iPhone or use the subscribe bookmarklet on the desktop Safari. UPDATE: How to install the bookmarklet. This is all I need to remember about the site and carry on with what I'm doing. Since I'm especially keen on adding new content to my Feed Wrangler discovery folder and I know it will be a little tedious later, I convince myself to update the smart stream whenever I subscribe. I know, what a massive procrastination I came up with. And that's without counting with third-party apps such as ReadKit not allowing you to modify the smart streams directly, so I just end up doing it on the iPhone. Inside the Feed Wrangler app this can be done tapping on Edit, the name of the smart stream and the blue button with an arrow next to 'Include all Feeds'. Then you scroll to look for the new feed you just added, and very important, you tap on the 'Update Smart Stream' grey button so the changes register. The same process is valid when you decide a site is not worth keeping and removing it from the stream or deleting altogether.

In four years I never thought or adding a new RSS subscription on Reeder on my iPhone. Using new apps has proven to be tricky but has opened new ways to enjoy content I didn't really consider before.

Keeping my feeds organised in folders has allowed me to discover new content creators without the need to save to Instapaper a recommended article and visit the website later. In this way I get a better feel of what the publishing habits of the author and the topics covered without fear of cramming my RSS with things I might not end up liking.