An Ode To RSS, A Vessel Of Freedom In Elearning

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An Ode To RSS, Moodle’s Most Pressing Interface
"Seeing RSS Everywhere" by Alan Levine is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated in August 31, 2020.

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If there are tech ideas that refuse to die, then the Moodle LMS is the land of the undead. A variety of tools whose time in the spotlight happened a while ago is ready for users of the most flexible and widely used LMS in the world. Email, Forums, Wikis, Blogs. SCORM could not go without mention. To nicely tie up the rooms in nostalgia, its core is built in PHP, the language that refuses to die.

SCORM and Moodle: A Dismal Relationship That May Last Forever

None of it is a criticism, mind you. Quite the opposite. These technologies have stood the test of time. Sure, they are at times idiosyncratic, not designed to be engaging, and your high proficiency on them has no place on your dating profile. But at the end of the day, ageist developers dismiss them, only to end up building lesser impersonations of them. If I ever see the day where Slack is alive, and email isn’t, I’ll eat my hat.

There is probably no technology more beaten down, more discarded by “innovators,” and yet more irreplaceable and urgent today than RSS.

In an age of user feeds, everyone insist on becoming the one channel to rule your life, into a tyranny of algorithmic centralization. In a crafty and much needed mesh of open source standards and open-mindedness, RSS understood the human spirit will seek after freedom and choice at every turn. It has seen empires rise and fall, and in its guaranteed longevity the time on earth of splashy apps catering to teens will look like a snap.

The truth is, the story of RSS is, in its fundamental spirit, the story of democratized syndication. In an age before personalization was a thing we cared about, it unassumingly gave us personalized feeds. The latest entry in Sinclair Target’s Two-Bit History documents its evolution, from a more pessimistic place of a “vision of the web’s future that never quite came to fruition.”

The name RSS took advantage of the very American media idea of syndication. Programs could be broadcast on different networks, often produced independently from them. In this sense, your RSS reader app is your own network, which you schedule at your leisure. Despite its name “Real Simple Syndication,” it might be easy to plug and filter your feeds, but the battles behind specification were out of the ordinary. It could be another episode of “small stakes, fierce battles,” or a critical part of an unashamed political stance regarding technology. If you are fond of podcasts, and might wonder why is it possible to find the latest episode on any platform, there’s a three-letter answer.

In a world of algorithms thirsty to co-opt not just your data, but your experiences, where the mischievous interests seeking to divide and taking us into eschewing the old for old’s same seem to have won, being a user of RSS feels like wearing a badge of honor. A tiny, rectangular, orange one. At its height, RSS never reached the mass adoption levels of comfy social networks today. For many the final blow was dealt by Google, shutting down the popular Google Reader because it was not popular enough. It probably had nothing to do with the higher monetization capabilities of Google+, reaped one by one by Facebook in probably no kind of poetic justice.

Today, RSS usage is not comparable to any social network. It can be a hassle to find the feed of an interesting blog, forum, community or news site. But there is still plenty of us willing to go the extra geeky mile to get content directly, without an algorithm deciding what is good for me and what isn’t. Without foolish commenters letting me know how I should feel. Of course, I need my good sense of judgement at hand because I won’t be coddled: Nobody can keep falsehoods, bias or shocking content from my feed but me.■

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