In early 2002, my company, UserLand Software, shipped a product called Radio UserLand. It was a combination blogging tool and RSS reader. It was basically an open precursor to Twitter. No 140-char limit. And anyone could produce an RSS feed, and anyone could consume them.
Because of this openness, a market grew up around it. And being open had its disadvantages. Change came slowly, if at all. At some point we couldn't add features, because the community was so unwieldy and from our point of view, uncooperative, even hostile.
So along came Twitter, and it ruled. It deserved to because it could evolve, it was faster than RSS, people would see your updates instantaneously, and subscription was a single click. That was probably the biggest accelerator for Twitter.
Anyway, here we are 15 years later, and Twitter is mature. Facebook and Snapchat are out there too. But guess what, the engine underneath it all is still there. The heart is still beating. The feeds are still feeding.
All along I've been using RSS to get my news. And I think I have it a lot better than pretty much anyone else. I control what I see. The only algorithm is transparent, last-in-first-out, and I'm running the code, not Facebook. I get a much richer news flow on my own system than I do on Facebook. It's not even close.
I made the software, River5, free. But it's really designed for programmers. It runs on the Unix command line. It's fine for what it does, but I wouldn't recommend it to a non-technical friend.
I wanted to make something that was as easy as Radio UserLand was 15 years ago. And just as much yours. Not controlled by a big company and its advertisers, and possibly political allies (we don't really know who Zuck is influenced by, after all).
Distilled, in a tweet, this is what it's about to me. "One of the most patriotic things you can do is to upgrade the quality and breadth of the news you read. Invest in your personal news flow."
Even just a few months ago, that statement would have seemed arrogant, even unhinged. But today we know that control of information flow is essential to basically everything. It will be even more so in the future.
That's the anthem of my new product, Electric River. It's now available for the Mac, hopefully soon on other desktop platforms. It boots up reading the feeds I set it up to read. But you can and should make it your own. I want to work on making feed discovery better next, but for right now, you can build your own news network and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to make it work. And in doing so you will help make building the next layer, and the one after that, possible.
Let's have fun! :balloon: