Turning inner space into outer space

March 20, 2013

Are Twitter lists a good replacement for RSS feeds?

With the demise of Google Reader, some people have suggested using Twitter lists instead. Indeed there are many news organizations that treat their Twitter account as little more than a feed of headlines and links. But since that comes close to what an RSS feed reader does, I thought I would give it a try.

If you’re interested in setting up Twitter lists yourself, I recommend this article from iMore: How to use Twitter lists to replace Google Reader. And I second their recommendation on Tweetbot.

But what about real life? How practical is it to use Twitter lists instead of RSS feeds and a great app like Reeder to follow them? I set out to try to duplicate my Reeder setup in Twitter, and here’s what I came up with.

First off all finding equivalents, or rough equivalents, wasn’t that hard. In many cases, the publisher of an RSS feed also has a Twitter account. What I found in some cases, though, was that larger news sites often have several specialized RSS feeds but not so many for Twitter. For example, I’m subscribed to the Globe and Mail feed for world news. The Globe has a variety of Twitter accounts covering various subjects, but none just for world news.

I was also surprised to find that a blog that specializes in online journalism has no Twitter account at all. And while you can find an RSS feed for CBC sports, the Twitter account by the same name seems to have been taken by a Popsicle soccer promotion of all things. (Might want to look into that, CBC.)

In any case, I was able to put together half a dozen Twitter lists that more or less approximate what I have set up in Reeder. But what a mess.

The lists are nothing like RSS feeds. They’re a jumble of tweets, retweets and irrelevant items that are constantly streaming — never really giving you the satisfaction of feeling like you’re up to date on everything important. I’m used to this sort of thing with the New Media list I’ve used for a couple of years, but I see that as more an ongoing conversation than a reliable source of news.

Tweetbot is great as a Twitter client, but it can’t beat Reeder’s ability to organize and keep track of headlines. Reeder also goes a step further by showing the first paragraph or two of an article so you can decide whether you want to commit to reading the whole thing. With Twitter, you usually only have a barebones headline to go by.

After trying out Feedly and Twitter lists, I’m more appreciative than ever of the fine workmanship that goes into Reeder. It truly is an excellent tool for keeping on top of the news. Feed readers are incredibly handy and deserve to be more popular. Now that Google Reader is dead and out of the way, I’m hoping some smart developers will find a way make RSS a household word — like Twitter.