The Philosophy of Unread, my Forthcoming RSS App

I still love RSS. It’s the best way for thoughtful, independent writers to be read widely and carefully, despite how much the design of a typical RSS app may get in the way of their words.

RSS is an unadorned medium. It’s just plain text and a little markup. This simplicity is a call to write well. There’s no web design wizardry to hide behind. The writer’s words stand naked and raw. RSS is also a call to read well. Good writing deserves attentive readers. With RSS, there’s nothing between you and a writer’s words except a piece of glass. Or at least that’s how it should be.

Most RSS apps are patterned after email. Noisy parades of dots, dates, and tags trample over their screens. Their source lists look like overflowing inboxes instead of stately tables of contents. Toolbars bristling with options obscure the text. Putting it bluntly, using these apps feels like work.

I’m a paper subscriber of The New Yorker magazine. I like to read it in a comfortable chair with the magazine folded down to a single visible column. When held that way, it looks remarkably similar to a screenful of clean RSS paragraphs. Reading on an iPhone should feel just as satisfying.

I made Unread because I wanted to get back to a more deliberate style of reading. I designed it for times of quiet focus. With warm typography and a sparse interface, it invites me to return to the way I used to read before I fell into the bad habit of skimming and forgetting.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve subscribed to more websites than you have time or attention to read. I was paranoid that I was missing out on important writing. The irony is that the more subscriptions I had, the less I read. All too often, my “unread” articles remained exactly that.

Does Unread do all the things you expect from a typical RSS reader? Sure. But you won’t find a feature list here. Features don’t nourish your mind. I suggest that you don’t buy Unread if you aren’t interested in pruning your reading lists. Unread can handle dozens of feeds and thousands of articles with ease, but why would you want it to?

Let Unread be an opportunity to break away from your old reading habits. Let Twitter or be the place for loud, busy feeds. Let RSS be the place where great independent writing thrives. Choose your favorite writers and read them closely. If you’re also a writer, write as if you were writing directly to just such a reader, the way Kierkegaard always wrote for:

… that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader…

This was written for the Unread home page. While Unread waits for App Store review, I thought it was worth reposting this here. ~ JTS.

|  26 Jan 2014