Use Twitter as your RSS reader

Posted by Ryan Jerz on Sunday January 11, 2009.

Things are changing on the internet. Duh, right? I’ve seen services come and go, but a few have stuck and stuck well. Twitter is one of those, and its usefulness is only growing as more is learned about the patters of people using it. In this case, though, I’m not going to try to tell you how to leverage Twitter to help your business. I’m going to tell you how to leverage it to help yourself.

Regular people are using Twitter. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you do too. I know of very few bloggers who are not on Twitter either to promote their blog or to use as a separate conversation tool. Even if they are not, you can make this work. I wanted to share an idea I had about making Twitter double as your RSS reader.

Getting started

You’ll need a few things:

  • A dummy Twitter account (mine is called mrjerzrss and it’s private)
  • A Twitterfeed account
  • Some RSS feeds (here, start with mine)

Start by setting your dummy Twitter account up and following it. This will make whatever feeds to it show up in your timeline on the web or whatever application you use. If you use your own Twitter account, you’ll annoy the living hell out of your followers as your RSS feeds firehose into their timelines. If you use Twitter exclusively through text, this won’t work for you, but most people don’t, as far as I can tell. Keeping this account private will keep everyone else from seeing what you’re marking later on, so I suggest it if this is meant only for your use.

Next, round up all your RSS feeds. I would suggest starting with a few to see if you really want to use this method. It may not work for everyone, but for people who spend a lit of their time on Twitter, it will cut down other places you visit throughout your time online. Keep those RSS links on a notepad or sticky of some sort on your desktop to make adding them as easy as possible.

Finally, set up your Twitterfeed account and add the RSS feeds you choose. The setup screen looks like this:

Setting up Twitterfeed to send RSS feeds to your Twitter account

You can adjust the settings for each individual feed, but as far as I can tell, there’s no harm in setting it as frequently and for as many downloads as possible. You also should set a unique identifier for the feed. For my own feed, I set it as “Me:.” For others, I give it a short (this is Twitter, so short is good) preface to tell me which blog it is. In the interest of saving space, I also toss out the description and only have it feed the title. I’ve found that the description usually gets cut off anyway, so there’s no worry in doing it this way.

Once you have everything set up for a test run, hang back and play on Twitter.

Using the setup

Now that you have set everything up as you want, you can go back to using Twitter as much as you please. As each site that you choose to follow is updated, you will see a post to Twitter like this:

My RSS Feeds in Twitter

It will show up in a stream just as all the tweets of your friends show up, and you can click through to posts that sound interesting right from there.

As a mobile user of Twitter, I can’t always go right to any post that I want to read, so I want an option that saves good posts for later reading. Enter the Favorites option on Twitter. I can click the little star to the right of the tweet (on the web version) or click the tweet in my mobile app and tell it to save the tweet as a favorite. Later on, I can hit up my favorites and check out all the blog and news entries I wanted saved. This way, I’m keeping good tweets for later and reading posts when I have the time. And since my dummy account is private, only people who are allowed access to read it can see that my regular Twitter account has favorited a post from there.

It’s exactly like the RSS reader, but I’m doing it using Twitter, which I am far more frequently able to check. If I become proficient at this, I can eliminate an RSS reader from my daily routine altogether.

Finishing up

I was always annoyed by people who used something like Twitterfeed to post their latest blog entry automatically to their, well, Twitter feed. I appreciated it much more when they took the time to write a post for Twitter that was different than something automatically generated. It made me feel like they at least were participating where I was participating in order for them to tell me about something else they were doing, instead of just blasting their blog out to every avenue available through the wonderful world of technology. It’s the modern version of blast faxing vacation deals that are too good to be true. I still feel that way.

Personally, I’ve only posted a few entries promoting my blog to Twitter, and I always did it manually. I felt like not everyone I was connected with on Twitter cared to read my blog, but in certain circumstances I felt like a post or two were big ones and very important ones to me, so I let everyone know about them. I still feel that way.

There is also the possibility that a ton of people are being introduced to blogs and RSS possibilities through Twitter. Perhaps they need a small push to get them reading all the sites where their friends are expounding on the thoughts they throw onto Twitter, or they want to read completely new things by some of the people they’ve come to know through Twitter and the various meetups we’ve had around here, or they need a little help in figuring out a better way to get their news.

No matter the reason, this tool will give them that option.

Bonus materials

I think we have a ton of great people working on making our online lives a bit easier in this area. Call them New Media Crusaders, if you will. They have set up aggregators taking full advantage of Twitter. So far, we have NevadaNews and NevadaBlogs. Simply follow them for their updates. For Nevada Twitter people, you can’t beat those tools. Perhaps you want to set up a public feed like those through this method (just make the dummy account public instead of private). You can also build your RSS feed network through following people on Twitter whom you already read through their blogs. Just favorite those links to their blog posts and read them at your convenience.

To add any tips for the bonus materials, leave a comment and I’ll add them as they come in.

Ryan JerzRyan Jerz is an all-around good guy who shoots photos and video, builds websites, and works at the University of Nevada. Ryan formerly taught digital production at Nevada's Reynolds School of Journalism.

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