RSS - Replacing Google Reader with ifttt and email

I used to be a Google Reader user, and used it religiously.  I used the web interface, and had NewsRob on my phone.  It was great.  Where ever I was, I had access to all my news feeds, and never missed an article.  I had my feeds nicely organized by subject, and kept on top of them.  Checking my feeds was a regular part of my day, quickly skimming titles for articles I was interested in and archiving items using other tools so that I could read them later when I had the time.

When I heard that Google Reader was getting axed I wasn't sure what I'd change to.  I tried a couple of alternatives that people posted (ex. Lifehacker's Five Best Google Reader Alternatives).  Specifically Feedly and NetVibes, but they weren't quite what I was looking for.  NetVibes is good, but I had periodic synchronization issues (entire RSS feeds would become unread) and it only syncs 100 items at a time, so it isn't that useful offline.

I continued to use NetVibes for a month or so, and then it clicked.  I was interacting with feeds a lot like email (and in fact Google started using the same UI for both Google Reader and Gmail).  So I figured why not just develop something that will convert RSS feed items into emails, then just use whatever email client I want to manage the articles.  Some of the advantage of managing feed items as emails is that:
  • Email addresses are free
  • Email is sticking around and commonly used
  • There are numerous email clients
  • A lot of people are working on improving email clients and managing emails
I had developing a daemon that read RSS feeds and generated emails based on them on my to do list for a while.  I knew it wouldn't be too difficult to do, because I had developed daemons that generated emails previously (I wrote a simple one in Python that checked the stock status of the Nexus 4 every 5 minutes and sent me an email when it changed).

The much easier solution, which I came to before wasting development work, was to use ifttt.  I already use it to forward specific G+ posts to Yammer, Twitter, etc... and it works great.

I created recipes for each RSS feed I follow.  I configured the recipes so that they're easy to manage
within ifttt and the emails are easily manageable.  Here are the steps I followed to get setup:
  • Sign up for a gmail account
  • Sign up for an ifttt account
  • Create a recipe for each RSS feed
    • Add RSS tag to recipe description (#RSS)
    • Add RSS feed name to recipe description
    • Trigger: RSS feed (need the URL)
    • Action: Send an email, prefix the subject with an acronym for the RSS feed
The prefixes in the subject allow you to quickly look through items and determine the feed they came from.  You can also use the prefix to sort/filter incoming emails and redirect them to folders (most email) or add the appropriate labels (gmail).

Archiving items for reading later or reference is very easy to do with emails as well, which is another nice benefit.

Some final notes:
  • You can use an existing email address.  If you do, I suggest adding something in the subject line of the email that allows you to create a custom filter to separate the feed items from normal emails.
  • Keep the prefixed used in the subject short so that it doesn't dominate the subject line space when looking at the emails in your email client (especially when using a small screen like your phone)

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