Freedombone Blog

Freedom in the Cloud

Integrating RSS

Twenty years after the invention of RSS its fortunes as a protocol appear to be dwindling. The Firefox browser has done an especially lamentable job of making RSS easy to use. The main reason for that seems to be not that it isn't a useful technology but that it doesn't readily enable the kinds of surveillance which largely fund the contemporary web. There is typically no tracking on a list of links and traditionally there havn't been many attempts to insert ads into RSS feeds. RSS feeds are also not subject to any AI-driven timeline algorithms which bias some content above others.

RSS readers have existed within Freedombone for a long time, first with Tiny Tiny RSS then SmolRSS and now there is integration of RSS into the web interface via a system called RSS Garden. The aim is to make subscribing to and reading RSS feeds maximally convenient.

Image description

There's an RSS button you can select on the admin or home screens on the web interface, which lists entries for feeds you're subscribed to and you can add or remove feeds by clicking on the title at the top.

Image description

And of course the web interface is either available on the local network or via an onion address.

Image description

Because the home screen may be available to multiple members of your household adding and removing feeds is only accessible by the admin, so that for example someone can have parental control of what feeds get listed. Later this might be elaborated into a true multi-user reader experience.

RSS integration is currently only available on the buster development branch which is expected to be formally released in one or two months time.

RSS Adventures

RSS is an old technology, but still useful. It's disappointing that it's not better supported by browsers but that's understandable given that it's a system which tends to make it easy to view content without adverts or other distracting links/images. I'm pretty sure that's the main reason why Google stopped supporting it when they controversially dropped their own reader.

I've been running Tiny Tiny RSS for a long time. The server software is modified so that it grabs new feeds via Tor, and this helps to avoid having any third parties gaining knowledge of what you're reading. The last I read, the maintainer of TT-RSS still has no interest in supporting proxying via Tor.

TT-RSS is great, but it's also quite complicated and the reading experience on mobile has been frustratingly flaky. As time passes I'm starting to read RSS feeds more on mobile devices and less on desktop operating systems with large screens. I've tried most (possibly all) of the various TT-RSS mobile readers for small screens, and didn't like any of them very much. So I was wondering if I could replace TT-RSS with something simpler which would work both on desktop and mobile. Searching around on Github I found an existing project with not much code and adapted it until it was sufficiently usable. The result is a new RSS reader called Smol RSS.

Smol RSS, as the name suggests, is a very small php system which allows you to select a feed from a drop down list and then view it. The way that it works is such that the feed is grabbed locally within your browser and not by the server. So installing to an onion address means that when you're browsing through feeds there isn't an easy way for a third party to know what you're reading. Orbot now supports version 3 onion addresses, so this also gives a good level of confidentiality. Unless you give out the onion address it would be hard for anyone to know what it is or that you are associated with it.

Smol RSS is an extremely minimal reader, so there are no advanced features like in TT-RSS. But for my purposes this is good enough and a lot more convenient. It's now an app within Freedombone, and I added both light and dark themes which are selectable via app settings in the admin control panel.

why not just use a native mobile app for RSS? I could do that, but having something on a server means that there's more convenience when using multiple mobile devices. I can set up the feeds list in a single place and then that applies no matter where I access it from.