“The problem for the tech industry corporations is that RSS disempowers them,” writes Dave Winer, the forefather of RSS. “It makes them commodities.” Perhaps this is why Twitter stopped officially supporting RSS earlier this year. Who knows.

In any event, it is still possible to construct RSS feeds for Twitter users, lists, and searches. Dave’s piece and a few questions I’ve received recently inspired me to document those methods. These instructions are intended for savvy web users who don’t want to mess around with code. In all cases, replace stuff like {username} to suit your needs.

RSS feed for a Twitter user

There are at least two ways to generate an RSS feed for an individual Twitter user, and I’ll document both on the assumption that they won’t work forever. The easiest method is as follows:

http://api.twitter.com/1/statuses/user_timeline.rss?screen_name={username}

The other method is slightly more complicated:

http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/{userID}.rss

You can find a user’s ID most easily with this tool. If that tool ever goes away, you can also find a Twitter user’s ID in this XML feed: https://api.twitter.com/1/users/show.xml?screen_name={username} The ID is at the very top of the feed in the <id> tag.

If you generate RSS feeds for several Twitter users, you could bundle them together as an OPML file, and you’ve got yourself a Twitter list. If you go that route, you might also be interested in Dave’s River2, which would help you elegantly display the list (and put it on the web). But if you prefer Twitter’s native support for lists, keep reading.

Atom feed for a Twitter list

Twitter lists don’t support RSS at all, as far as I can tell, but you can consume them as Atom feeds, which are recognized by most RSS readers, including Google Reader. Here is that method:

https://api.twitter.com/1/{username}/lists/{listname}/statuses.atom

For instance, to generate the Atom feed for The Wall Street Journal’s list of staffers on Twitter replace {username} with wsj and {listname} with wsj-staff (the list’s official name, found in its URL).

RSS feed for a Twitter search

For some people, the most useful type of RSS feed to generate from Twitter may be a search — for mentions of a Twitter handle, perhaps. Any search can be consumed in RSS as follows:

http://search.twitter.com/search.rss?q={query}

If your search is simple, replacing {query} will be easy. But if the query is complex, you may first need to encode it to get a useable URL. This tool ought to help in most cases. You could also perform the search on twitter.com and see how Twitter encodes it in the resulting URL. For instance, a Twitter search for example search with #hashtag ends up looking like: http://search.twitter.com/search.rss?q=example%20search%20with%20%23hashtag

In a pinch, you might prefer to turn to a third-party search engine such as Topsy, which exposes an RSS feed for pretty much any search you can perform there, just as Twitter used to do.