This was supposed to be a post about translating a URL into a [good] RSS feed. After reading The War on RSS and some of the passionate debate it kicked off on HackerNews I decided to write something else.
In short: RSS will never die.
The War on RSS part un
It’s time to get completely off RSS and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore. The River of News has become the East River of news, which means it’s not worth swimming in if you get my drift.
~ Rest in Peace RSS, Steve Gillmor on Techcrunch, May 2009
It sparked a meme. Suddenly everyone and their dog was convinced RSS was dead and we should all move on. Twitter will save us from something as horrible as a fourteen year old idea. That’s much too old for us web people.
In early 2011 RSS still wasn’t quite dead. “If RSS is dead, what’s next?“, a guy asked on Quora. This time, a very diplomatic answer came from the Robert Scoble (when I met him he said my startup idea is a fail just because it revolved around RSS):
First off, let’s define what dead means.
To me, anytime someone says a tech is dead it usually means that tech is not very interesting to discuss anymore, or isn’t seeing the most innovative companies doing new things with it
Essentially Scoble thinks RSS is dead because Google Reader stopped working out for him and nobody is innovating in the RSS space anymore.
Guess RSS isn’t that bad after all
The War on RSS part deux
There’s a veritable explosion of companies removing RSS from their products … for whatever reason. Usually because it doesn’t directly benefit the bottom line – they prefer proprietary formats.
The next Mac OS – Mountain Lion – will likely ship without native RSS support. Gone from Safari (in favor of their proprietary Reader/Read Later thingy). Gone from Mail.
Somewhere in the last few versions Firefox removed the RSS icon from its usual place in the url bar.
Twitter removed public support for RSS feeds of user accounts. The feeds still exist – discovering them just takes a bit of trickery since they aren’t even mentioned in the HTML anymore.
Once upon a time even Facebook had support for profile RSS feeds. These have long been gone, so long in fact I don’t remember ever having seen them.
And there has never been native RSS support in Chrome. So much for that.
This time RSS is well and trully busted right? Took an arrow to the knee never to be heard from again.
RSS Will Never Die
For a piece of tech that was declared dead and boring almost three years ago, RSS can stir up a suprisingly strong debate … mostly passionate users clinging on for dear life.
I asked Twitter whether anyone still uses RSS as a human. The replies started flying in as quickly as I pressed the submit button. 11 yes, 1 no-ish, 1 sort of no and 1 resounding no.
The data is skewed, yes. Only people passionate about enough to care replied and I am well aware that Normal Humans ™ don’t knowingly use RSS. That’s also quite a bit of responses for a random question posted to Twitter by some random guy.
It shows RSS will never die because of a simple reality: power users.
There is something called the 90-9-1 rule of online participation. At its core is the idea that 90% of content comes from the top 1% of contributors.
Saying those top contributors are your power users is a pretty safe bet. And that’s why RSS is here to stay for at least a while longer – all those people doing most of the sharing? A lot of their stuff comes from RSS.
Why do people still use RSS anyway?
Ok, so the top 1% of that top 1% may have moved away from RSS and onto social media. Or at least that’s what everyone was claiming back in 2009 when Twitter was still something fresh, new and exciting. And most of all, much, much slower.
Twitter is not a replacement for RSS. Not by a long shot. It’s too busy!
My Twitter stream gets about 30 new messages every minute or two. This isn’t an environment to follow important-ish updates. Certainly not a place to look for 500+ word chunks of text that take ten minutes to read.
And god forbid anyone writes their blog only once a week, I’d miss 99% of their updates!
That’s where RSS comes in.
Not only does it take an hour for ten new posts to reach my Google Reader – when something does vanish, there is a sidebar full of subscriptions where I can see that, hey, there’s a bunch of stuff I want to read … eventually. No pressure. It’s all going to be here tomorrow, a week from now … even a month.
By the way, anything older than a week or two stops existing on Twitter.
When I want to read The Art of Manliness, I can just waltz over to Google Reader and check out the last few posts . No rush. The content is long, but it’s informative and it waits for me. There’s also no interruption or conversation. Just the curated best of what they have to say.
None of that on their Twitter though. Even though they only post every couple of hours, most of it is still reposts of old stuff and answering questions. I think there’s actually less than one new Actual Post ™ per day.
It gets worse for people, like me, who use Twitter as persons. Most of it is just random chitchat you don’t care about, sharing cool links from the web and generally everything but a RSS replacement for my personal blog.
Consequently, RSS offers bigger exposure to your content.
Looking at a recent personal post … tweeting three times creates 67 clickthroughs. Posting to RSS reached 145 readers, however Feedburner might be calculating that.
That’s a big difference!
RSS may have flopped for the regular user. It’s complex and kind of weird; but for that most important of readers – a fan - it will never really die.
And that’s before we even consider computers needing a simple and open way to follow websites’ updates.
- How Do You Keep Up With All of This? (freetech4teachers.com)
- Supercharge Google Reader with Styles and Extensions [Google Reader] (lifehacker.com)
- Feedly Instead of Reader: Augmented Reality for RSS Feeds (ethancbanks.com)
- Follow This Blog on Twitter, Become a Fan on Facebook, Subscribe Via Email or RSS Feed! (risablairlovitz.com)
- Read RSS feeds directly in your Inbox with Blogtrottr (creativeramblings.com)