OSR Blog Renaissance?

Thoughts on using Inoreader to keep up with the OSR blog scene.

My personal blogging died for a couple of reasons. Mainly because my mainblog (swordfishislands.blogspot.com) was always supposed to be about well... the Swordfish Islands Hexcrawl and talking about unrelated things, even if they were RPG or gaming related always felt off. Then Google Plus came along and really easy to "micro-blog" and it pretty much completely won me over.

To be fair, I wasn't anywhere near being an "OG" blogger in the OSR scene, so I lacked a lot of the deep roots others in the community have, but I did read their blog posts pretty much constantly.

Now that G+ for plebs is being taken out behind the shed and "sunset", I am hopeful that blogging will return to the forefront. It's relatively easy, and frequently free to setup, and bloggers have a great deal of control over their sites (too much so sometimes that all the choices and options can be daunting). IMO blogs serve as a good entry point into pretty much any sort of hobbyist community, such as the OSR or DIYRPG scene. Not only are blog posts (typically) more long form and thorough in nature, "valuable" conversations on "important" topics typically happen by way of multiple bloggers writing multiple posts on multiple blogs about the same topic. This provides a myriad of entry points for new people to stumble into quality conversations. Social media takes the opposite approach, "valuable" and "important" conversations (typically) happen when a number of people all find and join a singular thread. And usually if you miss the thread, you miss it all (hence the importance of "subbing" and "."ing on Google Plus).
But of course, blogs have their own problems, the main ones as I see them being:
  • How the fuck to you keep track of all the blathering?
  • How do you ensure you're not overwhelmed by the person who posts relatively low value posts but frequently, and conversely, ensure that you don't miss who posts high value but seldomly?
The answer is pretty much: RSS Feeds. And there are lots of solutions, but I want to talk about Inoreader. But first, a few callouts. I have no connection to Inoreader in anyway. Many (maybe even all) of the things I discuss may be covered by another feed reader. This isn't meant to be a comparison piece, simply a "look at the potential of this awesome tool I found!"

Here are some of the high points and capabilities of the tool that I consider to be relevant to the OSR scene.
  1. You can Import and Export OPML files. These are basically a list of blogs (or well, RSS feeds) that you want to follow. If you manually add RSS feeds to Inoreader (or any feed reader really) they're pretty much guaranteed to be saved in, or exportable into, this format. Point being: if you're using a different reader, you can move over easily. You can pick up a big mega OSR related OPML files over on the amazing Ramanan S. blog Save vs Total Party Kill.

  2. You can subscribe to OPML files. I haven't messed with this one directly yet, but as I understand it, if you didn't want to manually maintain your own list of RSS feeds, or if someone wanted to "curate" a list of feeds on a particular topic, you could use Inoreader to subscribe to that big list o' feeds, and not have to do any work. Of course, if the list went down or went away, or the owner of the list made changes you didn't like you'd be shit out of luck, but this is just another tradeoff in the eternal war between centralization and federation isn't it?

  3. You can sort your feeds into folders. Want to follow a bunch of pixel artists AND a bunch of OSR types AND Raspberry Pi enthusiasts? But you don't want all the different topics to be muddled into a single mega feed? No problemo. Folders are your friend. Only potential problem with Inoreader is that you CANNOT create subfolders. So, for example, if you made a folder for pixel artists, and one for OSR types, but then you wanted to extract the OSR blogs you considered "must read", you couldn't make the "Must Read OSR Blogs" a subfolder of the OSR blogs folder.

  4. You can sort feeds into bundles. Bundles are basically folders, but they can be found and followed by other Inoreader users. Could be a nice way for Inoreader users who are into RPGs to find the OSR scene if they don't know about it already. Can also be a good way for new people that find the scene via social media to start following blogs. (e.g., "Yeah man, just sign up for Inoreader and once you're in search for the OSR "bundle").

  5. You can sign up for an unlimited number of feeds with the free version of Inoreader. I only call this out because Inoreader says this specifically. Feedly (another RSS reader) says you are only allowed to subscribe to 100 feeds as a free user. Now, many free users of feedly have said that they subscribe to way more than 100 feeds, and I do not doubt them. It is possible though that there may be a day of reckoning in this regard if blog/rss popularity begins to rise again.

  6. You can subscribe to YouTube channels (and more). It's effortless. You can watch the videos from Inoreader itself, and you can see them as they are posted pretty much. There can be delays of course, but it's not going to be that situation where when you subscribe to a channel on YouTube directly and are never notified that new videos are being posted.... And not just YouTube. You can subscribe to anything that has an RSS feed, and there are even some sites out there that can sort of add RSS feeds to things that don't normally have them, such as an instagram account. You should understand that those typically vanish pretty rapidly, but still, it's part of the possibilities that exist.

  7. Automation via Search + Rules + Tags and more. This is the big daddy, but in order to use this to its fullest extent, you'll need to pay for Inoreader. However, the max level is only $50 a year, but if you're a small publisher, I think it will absolutely be worth it. Let's dig into this.

Here's a potential use case for Automation via search and rules. Let's say you're an independent publisher. You can set up a search that looks for the name of your book. This search can be run on the feeds you subscribe to. It can also be run on all publicly available feeds in the Inoreader ecosystem (but only if you're paying $50 a year). It can search Twitter, G+ (for now), and Google News as well.

Then rules can be made (again, if you're paying) to do things like:
  • highlight the searched term in the articles
  • tag the article (effectively automatically putting a copy into a "folder" associated with that tag)
  • mark things as read or filter out the article based on the search term
  • send an email notification or send the article to an email address of your choice
  • Match if an article has attachments
  • match if an article has images
  • match URLs
  • Rules can chain
  • and more
So, theoretically, a small publisher could set something up so that all articles containing the title of their book are tagged and automatically put into a tagged folder for viewing. This could be refined to ignore certain URLs or feeds. It could be refined to only pull articles that contain the name and an image. Or, with some Regex, it could look for articles containing the book name and any words from a list of negative or positive words to potentially identify good/bad reviews.

Rules could also be set up to look for specific time periods. So if you saw a sales spike or a harassment campaign, you could quickly search all the blogs you follow for mentions to try and figure out what happened.

You could also potentially set things up to "automatically" pull potential "news clippings" by month so you could make reports for other members on your team.

Or, you could do something like, set up a search that looks for "hexcrawl" or "hex crawl" and contains the word "map" and has an image in the post, and pull it into a folder for focused perusal.
And then of course... you can set all this up on your desktop from your browser, but check it constantly from the Inoreader App on your iPhone or Android device.

I am legitimately excited by the potential of all of this.