Cutting out the middle man: moving RSS stuff capture from Google Reader to … nothing?

Google has announced it is retiring Google Reader on July 1st. An outcry has been heard across the internet. First they take over an ecosystem, then they destroy it … the Borg could not have done a better job. Assimilation, then destruction.

I was among those who cried out over the loss of a good and accessible RSS feed aggregator. I’m not on the side of those who argue RSS is dead. Being able to read my articles at my leisure, usually on the train to and from work, is something I would be difficult to wean off of.

So I looked around at other alternatives. Feedly was one of the first, and honestly, the service is excellent, and even pleasurable. The iOS and the Mac in-browser apps are very accessible. So I almost did not give it a second thought … until I started to consider the redundancy and inefficiency in my workflow.

My past RSS workflow

Consider my past RSS related workflow. I would have a Google Reader client, either Reeder (on my Mac) or Mr. Reader (on my iOS devices) which I used to “scan” articles. Rather than reading everything that had come in, these applications allowed me to easily discard 80% of the articles that had come in overnight or during the day and push the other ones to my reading apps, either Pocket or Instapaper.

Whenever I had time to read a couple of articles at ease, usually on the train or during the weekend, I would open up my reading app and go through the articles, reading some and deleting, reference filing in Evernote or pushing to OmniFocus those that needed to be dealt with.

Let’s review that again … I touch every piece of relevant information at least twice, sometimes three times. Google Reader app to trash can or reading app. Reading app to trash can, reference filing app or to do app. Was there no possibility to cut out at least one step?

Turns out there is. Let me tell you what I did.

My current RSS workflow

Enter a wonderful website called IFTTT, which you can find here. IFTTT, for IF This Than That, is a web solution that automatically pipes content from one place to another. That another place can easily be an application, especially a combined web app and iOS app.
I set up IFTTT scenarios for my most popular RSS feeds, which I “liberated” from the Borg, oops, Google, through their Takeout tool. The following is a step-by-step guide to setting up IFTTT for this.

My IFTTT scenario

Step 1 – Selecting the first trigger

IFTTT has a lot of so-called channels. A channel is an entry or an exit point for an IFTTT scenario, or recipe as they aptly call it. If you look at my screen, you can see that there is an RSS feed channel, which we will set up as an entry point.

Step 2 – Choosing a trigger

Each channel needs to have a trigger identified. What will cause IFTTT to act? What does it need to monitor. For the sake of this example, we will select “New Feed Item” as a trigger. Anytime a new item is added to the feed we will be monitoring, the recipe triggers.

Step 3 – Completing the trigger fields

The system now asks to identify a feed. I choose MacTuts+, an excellent website on all things Mac related. I got the exact feed from my Takeout xml which contains all my Google Reader feeds, and copied it to this feed url field.

Step 4 – Choosing an action channel

Once we have defined what needs to trigger the action, we need to define what we want done with the information. This is where our action channel comes in. There are an enormous amount of different things you can do with IFTTT. We will now copy the information the trigger provides to a reading application. For the example I use Pocket, but this can be configured with Instapaper, Pinboard or whatever channels are on the IFTTT list.

Step 5 – Choosing an action

In Pocket, I can actually only choose to save the trigger information for later. It pushes the information captured by the trigger to my destination web application, which is pocket.

Step 6 – Complete the action fields

The “Save for later” action allows me to defined the entry URL, which is pre-populated, and the tags, which I adapted so I can see when which feed provided me with which post. It also makes it easier to search Pocket for a specific date and feed.

Step 7 – Create and activate

And I end up with a recipe that will ensure that my RSS feeds go straight to my Pocket reading app, instead of making a detour through a feed reader app. While it may clutter my reading app, it is just another inbox where I decide what needs to be done with that information. I’ve effectively cut out the middle man.