How Twitter replaced my RSS reader

Twitter has officially replaced Don Reisinger's RSS reader. Find out how you can do it too.

As an avid Twitter user, I'm constantly trying to find ways to extend its functionality and make it more than a place to converse with friends and discuss what's going on in my life.

Doing that can be quite simple. More often than not, I'll employ "Remember the Milk" or a similar tool that lets me use Twitter to manage my tasks. These tools typically work well and help me achieve my single desire: to fully exploit Twitter and get everything I can out of it.

But in recent weeks, I've realized that I've been missing the boat in a very big way. In the past I've used sites like Bloglines, Google Reader, and others to track prominent sites, and find out what kind of stories they're covering each day. Some are related to technology, while others focus solely on sports. No matter the topic, the RSS reader made it easy to find out what's going on in the world without being forced to go to all the different sites individually.

But in recent weeks, I've realized that each day I use the best feed reader of them all and I didn't even know it: Twitter. Since then, I've used it exclusively as a replacement to my RSS reader and I couldn't be happier. Believe it or not, Twitter is the best way to find all the best news.

People, people, people
I'm a firm believer that you should follow everyone who follows you on Twitter . I think it would make the community a better place and by doing so, you actually get more out of the service than by only following a select group of friends.

But I've realized now that it goes beyond just knowing other people. I now know that by following other people, your chances of getting more news, and getting it faster goes way up. And that's precisely why Twitter users have kept me from having to rely on my RSS reader for news.

Remember when US Airways flight 1549 landed safely in the Hudson River ? I didn't hear about it in my RSS reader and I didn't even see it on TV. No, first I heard about it from folks on Twitter.

I simply checked Twitter to see what some of my followers were up to and almost immediately, a deluge of discussions on Flight 1549 cropped up. I immediately went to my RSS reader and discovered something I didn't expect: none of the blogs I was following was covering the story yet. At that moment, I realized that Twitter's value went beyond connecting with others.

Since that time, I've been more aware of the connection between Twitter users and the news. More often than not, news breaks first on Twitter, and I've found that I'm brought to sites with the best coverage because the community cuts through the junk.

Power of the Twitter profile
Just because people are my best resource, it doesn't mean that they're the only way to find reliable information on Twitter. In fact, I've found that most of the sites I subscribe to in my RSS readers already have Twitter profiles, and whenever an article is written on their site, it's immediately published in their Twitter stream. In essence, it's an RSS reader built into the single online tool I use most often. Why should I waste my time with Google Reader?

CNET Networks

CNET News has its own Twitter profile and so does CNN. SunTimes is an outstanding Twitter profile with a wealth of information and Webware's Twitter profile is an ideal profile to follow if you want Web news. Heck, you can even follow me on Twitter and find out whenever a post of mine goes up on my Digital Home column or here on Webware. You really don't need an RSS reader for all that.

And that's why I actively seek out Twitter profiles for all the sites I subscribe to. Sometimes, I can't find one and I'm forced to check my reader whenever I want to know what's going on at the site, but more often than not, the site has a Twitter profile and I'm able to follow all its updates right through the microblogging service.

Based on my testing, Twitter's updates are actually ahead of some of the RSS feed updates for some of my most trafficked sites. For example, CNN's Twitter profile posts the update sooner than its RSS feed updates and FoxNews updates are posted at about the same time. In other words, you won't need to wait longer by using Twitter instead of Google Reader to get updates about the news from your favorite sources. So as long as your sources have Twitter profiles, why use that RSS reader?

News aggregators? You bet
The final piece in the puzzle to create a Twitter account that will replace your RSS reader is to follow news aggregators, like Digg's page, TopGossip, and BreakingNewsOn. Each profile takes breaking news from a slew of sources and puts them into their own Twitter stream. It's ideal.

There are times when those I follow miss some stories. News aggregation profiles have my followees covered by taking news stories from sites that I may or may not follow and posting them on Twitter for everyone to see. Meantime, I don't miss a single headline and I'm given an opportunity to find the best stories from the best sources as quickly as possible.

In fact, I find the most unique stories in those news aggregation profiles. Often times, they're filled with sites that I don't subscribe to in my RSS reader and I don't normally go to them on a daily basis. So when they update the stream with a really interesting article about something that I probably wouldn't see elsewhere, I have the opportunity to be exposed to new and exciting things. And in the process, I'm once again ensuring that I have access to news that I may have otherwise missed or taken too long to consume with an RSS reader.

Twitter has quickly become my ideal replacement for the RSS reader. But for that to happen, I needed to use a three-pronged approach: follow people so they can do the heavy-lifting, follow news sites so they mimic my RSS reader, and follow news aggregators to catch anything I might have missed from the first two groups.

But before you run off and start doing this, I should note that there is one issue: you might miss some stories because you'll be away from Twitter or you'll not have it open in your browser. In those cases, you'll be forced to go to a site's individual Twitter profile. Yeah, it's a pain, but believe it or not, that has only happened to me a couple times. More often than not, the big news is always readily available.

So, ditch that RSS reader and start using Twitter for all your news consumption. Trust me, you won't regret it.

About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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