Feed Reader Reflections

By | Monday, February 20, 2023 Leave a Comment
Back in September 2021, I took a look at my webcomics feed reader and noticed not that much had actually changed. Of the hundreds of webcomic titles I had subscribed to through there, relatively few of them updated at all and many of those had been sporadic at best. But what I didn't do at the time was try to clean things out. I knew many of the webcomics weren't updating but I didn't bother removing their feed from the system. And honestly, I've barely looked at my feed reader since then.

But this weekend, I got a notice that my subscription to the reader itself was ending and the old credit card number I had charged it to in the past had expired. In order to keep using that reader, I'd have to log in and manually put in a new card number. I could have just let the renewal lapse, not really having used it over the past three years, but instead I took this as a good opportunity to try to get back in the habit of reading a number of webcomics. So I logged in, updated my credit card info, and got served up a kind of status screen that noted that I was currently signed up for 405 feeds and I had a max of 500 before I would need to upgrade to a more expensive plan. I knew some of those feeds were old and outdated, though, so I opted to take some time to just clear house.

Fortunately, there's a handy feature on that same status screen that not only tells you the most recent feed updates that have come through, but also the feeds that seem to be inactive and when they were last updated. I didn't think to actually count -- which, thinking now, would've made for an interesting tabulation once I'd finished -- but there were a surprising number of webcomics I had subscribed to but hadn't updated since 2013. Loads in the 2014 and 2015 range too! Now, some of those -- and indeed other comics that continued longer than that but still hadn't updated in years -- had formally concluded. The creators told the story they wanted to tell and had a final webcomic page that said "the end." More often, though, the comic just stopped.

I get it; you miss one update and then another and promise yourself you'll get back to it soon, but suddenly five years have gone by. I know how life works, particularly for creators whose livelihood isn't directly tied to their webcomic. But what I found kind of sad as I was going through were the feeds that hadn't been updated in maybe two years and, when I check on the website itself to see if there was a message that didn't make it into the feed, the domain no longer exists. It's just gone into the ether. At least with the feeds that were suddenly filled with Japanese advertisements, I could maybe assume the site was hacked. But it was the ones that were just gone that were most depressing.

Because for that site to be gone, that means that the creator not only had to stop working on it, but that they also got a notification from their web host asking if they wanted to renew the domain, and the creators chose not to. Either because they couldn't afford it, or they gave up on that dream. And either of those propositions is a sad one. They started their comic because they had a really great story they wanted to share with the world and circumstances said no. Whether it really was a great story or not, whether they really had the talent to craft the story well enough or not is immaterial. They wouldn't have started if they didn't think it was a good idea. But Life happened and told them it wasn't.

I did not expect going through my reader and cleaning out these old feeds would be difficult. Time-consuming, yes -- I had literally hundreds of feeds in there. Just taking out the stuff that's obviously dead? I've cut my number of feeds at least in half! (I'm down to 181 as of this writing, and I still have quite a few feeds I haven't even done a cursory check on yet.) That's a lot of failed dreams. I've known for years that webcomics is an insanely difficult field, and that the vast majority of webcomics do indeed fail, but this somehow hit a bit harder than either the numbers I've studied before or the hundreds of individual anecdotes I've come across.
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