RSS will never die

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

Propaganda

In May 2009 Steve Gillmor wrote on Techcrunch

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.

Bummer.

Five months later he wrote about Feedly – an RSS reader for the iPad. Saying “don’t miss out and get Feedly on your iPad”. He called the idea of an RSS reader for the iPad stupid just 7 months prior.

Guess RSS isn’t that bad after all :)

The War on RSS part deux

Hogarth_Idle_Prentice_executed_at_Tyburn

This week – April 2012 – RSS still wasn’t quite dead. The War on RSS got a lot of passionate attention on HackerNews.

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

Evolution of the Cylon

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?

Old Desk

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.

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  • http://exotikcar.com location voiture agadir

    I am a heavy user of RSS. I like to keep up to date with many websites, so it’s the only viable solution for me. It’s only Techcrunch that says it’s dead, but most of what they say is rubbish – they just say it to start arguments and get user participation (arguments) on their website ;-) Plus RSS feeds are very easy to implement

  • Justin White

    I don’t understand how Twitter can replace RSS (but then, I don’t use it much).  Can’t really follow a webpage the same way, and even if you do it gets lost in the rest of the meaningless chatter (which is why I don’t use twitter).

    RSS feeds are nice and orderly.  I can go to the articles I feel like reading when I feel like reading them, and if I let one feed sit, I can still look at them at my leasure instead of having to hunt through my twitter spam for them.

  • Justin White

    I don’t understand how Twitter can replace RSS (but then, I don’t use it much).  Can’t really follow a webpage the same way, and even if you do it gets lost in the rest of the meaningless chatter (which is why I don’t use twitter).

    RSS feeds are nice and orderly.  I can go to the articles I feel like reading when I feel like reading them, and if I let one feed sit, I can still look at them at my leasure instead of having to hunt through my twitter spam for them.

  • henrijs

     blink tag

  • henrijs

     blink tag

  • p3k

    Could you please give an example of a “technology for humans” in the IT sector?

  • p3k

    Could you please give an example of a “technology for humans” in the IT sector?

  • B Ali

    hi

  • B Ali

    hi

  • http://windump.myopenid.com/ windump

    i’ve been using the PostRank extension for chome for years – it’s a kick ass enhancement for Reader and SERP by “hiding” the cruft
    http://www.postrank.com/ Don't know if it’s still available – probably on github somewhere

  • http://windump.myopenid.com/ windump

    i’ve been using the PostRank extension for chome for years – it’s a kick ass enhancement for Reader and SERP by “hiding” the cruft
    http://www.postrank.com/ Don't know if it’s still available – probably on github somewhere

  • http://blog.jasonpbecker.com/ Jason Becker

    Couldn’t agree more. I have no freaking clue what someone is talking about when they say that Twitter replaced RSS. Totally different use cases that barely overlap at all for me. Frequency, history, search, depth, and organization are all very different on RSS v. social networks.

  • http://blog.jasonpbecker.com/ Jason Becker

    Couldn’t agree more. I have no freaking clue what someone is talking about when they say that Twitter replaced RSS. Totally different use cases that barely overlap at all for me. Frequency, history, search, depth, and organization are all very different on RSS v. social networks.

  • gmayerson

    RSS is far from dead.  I use it to post from my blogs to Twitter and Facebook via Twitterfeed.  Works beautifully and saves me lots of time and effort.  I even use it to post links between blogs with FreshFrom WP plug-in.  It’s wonderful.

  • gmayerson

    RSS is far from dead.  I use it to post from my blogs to Twitter and Facebook via Twitterfeed.  Works beautifully and saves me lots of time and effort.  I even use it to post links between blogs with FreshFrom WP plug-in.  It’s wonderful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732257342 Robert Wesley Gibbons

    If RSS is dead, JSON is the logical replacement. APIs are always going to be around, and this is exactly what they’re for. An API allows the same features of RSS, but with a more lightweight container format and a backend that supports more targeted queries.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732257342 Robert Wesley Gibbons

    If RSS is dead, JSON is the logical replacement. APIs are always going to be around, and this is exactly what they’re for. An API allows the same features of RSS, but with a more lightweight container format and a backend that supports more targeted queries.

  • http://twitter.com/ologhaiofmordor Olog-hai

    There’s nothing wrong with RSS as a technology. The problem is that the implementations are poor. I’ve been using Google Reader daily since 2005, and while there are many things to like about it, it does a terrible job of filtering and prioritizing. For example, if you use “sort by magic” and happen to subscribe to Engadget and The Verge, it will put their articles at the top. During CES, you’ll be faced with a slew of uninteresting and irrelevant product announcements. Reader knows what you’ve clicked on and starred, but it doesn’t put that information to good use.

    I don’t like the design of Feedly. Fever looks promising, but it’s a $30 self-hosted product with no free trial period aimed at professionals. The crux of the matter is that there are high-volume content providers for whom I find 10% of their articles really compelling. I sure wouldn’t want to miss them, but that means slogging through lots of stuff I don’t care about. For all the hand-wringing about a filter bubble, better automated feed management is sorely needed.

  • http://twitter.com/ologhaiofmordor Olog-hai

    There’s nothing wrong with RSS as a technology. The problem is that the implementations are poor. I’ve been using Google Reader daily since 2005, and while there are many things to like about it, it does a terrible job of filtering and prioritizing. For example, if you use “sort by magic” and happen to subscribe to Engadget and The Verge, it will put their articles at the top. During CES, you’ll be faced with a slew of uninteresting and irrelevant product announcements. Reader knows what you’ve clicked on and starred, but it doesn’t put that information to good use.

    I don’t like the design of Feedly. Fever looks promising, but it’s a $30 self-hosted product with no free trial period aimed at professionals. The crux of the matter is that there are high-volume content providers for whom I find 10% of their articles really compelling. I sure wouldn’t want to miss them, but that means slogging through lots of stuff I don’t care about. For all the hand-wringing about a filter bubble, better automated feed management is sorely needed.

  • http://chxor.chxo.com/ chxor

    Also, the day Firefox stops supporting Live Bookmarks (another great overlooked-but-incredibly-useful RSS power user feature!) is the day I stop upgrading Firefox.

  • http://chxor.chxo.com/ chxor

    Also, the day Firefox stops supporting Live Bookmarks (another great overlooked-but-incredibly-useful RSS power user feature!) is the day I stop upgrading Firefox.

  • http://chxor.chxo.com/ chxor

    Hey, I never realized the Chrome doesn’t show a feed icon. What tools, you’d think they would want to cross-promote Google Reader. 

    Then again, maybe it means that Reader is on this year’s shutdown list…

  • http://chxor.chxo.com/ chxor

    Hey, I never realized the Chrome doesn’t show a feed icon. What tools, you’d think they would want to cross-promote Google Reader. 

    Then again, maybe it means that Reader is on this year’s shutdown list…

  • http://chxor.chxo.com/ chxor

    Duplicate post, sorry.

  • http://chxor.chxo.com/ chxor

    Duplicate post, sorry.

  • fjpoblam

    Scoble has now and then thought everything was dead. I suspect it’s time to declare that Scoble’s predictions (and others’ predictions) that things are “dead”, are dead. Many predicted that email was dead, yet it is as strong as, if not stronger than, ever. RSS, for me, is strong, because I favor the presence of a few items lying fallow at the top of a feed for noticing later, while Twitter offers fleeting glimpses which I might not catch unless my eyeballs are glued to Twitter all day. If Scoble’s eyes are glued to Twitter steadily enough to make it a reliable substitute for RSS, then I suspect Scoble needs to get a life.

  • fjpoblam

    Scoble has now and then thought everything was dead. I suspect it’s time to declare that Scoble’s predictions (and others’ predictions) that things are “dead”, are dead. Many predicted that email was dead, yet it is as strong as, if not stronger than, ever. RSS, for me, is strong, because I favor the presence of a few items lying fallow at the top of a feed for noticing later, while Twitter offers fleeting glimpses which I might not catch unless my eyeballs are glued to Twitter all day. If Scoble’s eyes are glued to Twitter steadily enough to make it a reliable substitute for RSS, then I suspect Scoble needs to get a life.

  • dbakerweb

    Great post! Thanks for this angle. RSS is part of the open web. We need more ways for the web itself to be the product we use and not this or that big company. I’m all for profit but let’s see thousands of companies profiting from making great services available, not just one or two mammoths. RSS gets pulled because of the bottom-line – but why would Mozilla pull it?

  • dbakerweb

    Great post! Thanks for this angle. RSS is part of the open web. We need more ways for the web itself to be the product we use and not this or that big company. I’m all for profit but let’s see thousands of companies profiting from making great services available, not just one or two mammoths. RSS gets pulled because of the bottom-line – but why would Mozilla pull it?

  • http://jivebay.com/ jivebay

    A site that doesn’t have a RSS feed for its content, will not get by me very often. I don’t have time to visit a site everyday, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Where else can I get updates from the few quality sites I’ve picked, plus then filter the stuff I don’t want from yahoo pipes. Hell you could say Yahoo Pipes is dead, as yahoo barely even updates or fixes the problems with it, but its the coolest and most useful app they ever made. With the death of Digg, Reddit being too damn ugly of a website with a horrible UI, slashdot being way too repetative and not really web dev friendly enough, RSS feeds are essential for me.

  • http://jivebay.com/ jivebay

    A site that doesn’t have a RSS feed for its content, will not get by me very often. I don’t have time to visit a site everyday, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Where else can I get updates from the few quality sites I’ve picked, plus then filter the stuff I don’t want from yahoo pipes. Hell you could say Yahoo Pipes is dead, as yahoo barely even updates or fixes the problems with it, but its the coolest and most useful app they ever made. With the death of Digg, Reddit being too damn ugly of a website with a horrible UI, slashdot being way too repetative and not really web dev friendly enough, RSS feeds are essential for me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrchrisfletcher Chris Fletcher

    Thank you!

    I never could get into using Twitter as a news feed. There’s just too much noise relative to actual information. It made my head hurt compared to the leisurely stroll through RSS items (as you so aptly described in this article).

    My other issue with Twitter as news is that by the time it reaches me, it’s already been read, reinterpreted, and repeated several times over, where with an RSS feed you are reading directly from the source.

    With RSS, you often discover gems that are underappreciated, while Twitter seems to prey upon the lowest common denominator when it comes to shareworthiness (Top 10 Lists, Linkbait, Controversy for the sake of controversy).

  • http://www.facebook.com/mrchrisfletcher Chris Fletcher

    Thank you!

    I never could get into using Twitter as a news feed. There’s just too much noise relative to actual information. It made my head hurt compared to the leisurely stroll through RSS items (as you so aptly described in this article).

    My other issue with Twitter as news is that by the time it reaches me, it’s already been read, reinterpreted, and repeated several times over, where with an RSS feed you are reading directly from the source.

    With RSS, you often discover gems that are underappreciated, while Twitter seems to prey upon the lowest common denominator when it comes to shareworthiness (Top 10 Lists, Linkbait, Controversy for the sake of controversy).

  • henrijs

    RSS as a technology for humans died fourteen years ago, few minutes after birth. RSS is not for humans, it is for machines.

  • henrijs

    RSS as a technology for humans died fourteen years ago, few minutes after birth. RSS is not for humans, it is for machines.

  • http://twitter.com/BTrautschold brian trautschold

    I agree RSS won’t die – will it be augmented and overshadowed by other things? Definitely. 

    Is twitter/ [insert network alternative] going to continue to impede on a world that was dominated by RSS?  Definitely.

    We still revolve a ton our product and functionality around RSS and feel it is still a cornerstone of gathering news/ info/ etc – but social outlets & alternatives cannot be ignored – rather embraced for the wealth of data they can convey. 

  • http://twitter.com/BTrautschold brian trautschold

    I agree RSS won’t die – will it be augmented and overshadowed by other things? Definitely. 

    Is twitter/ [insert network alternative] going to continue to impede on a world that was dominated by RSS?  Definitely.

    We still revolve a ton our product and functionality around RSS and feel it is still a cornerstone of gathering news/ info/ etc – but social outlets & alternatives cannot be ignored – rather embraced for the wealth of data they can convey. 

  • http://www.pytania.biz/ Pit

    I use RSS in my RSS reader every day and I see no alternative to RSS/Atom. Do you know any alternatives to RSS?

  • http://www.pytania.biz/ Pit

    I use RSS in my RSS reader every day and I see no alternative to RSS/Atom. Do you know any alternatives to RSS?

  • bradwestness

    I use iGoogle as my homepage and every widget I have is pulling RSS from somewhere. It’s great to have a standard way of pulling stuff in from multiple different sources. I can see why Firefox or Chrome don’t necessarily need to devote precious UI pixels to dealing with RSS feeds — they aren’t really intended to be read directly by humans (especially since most blogs and websites only give you an excerpt in the feed), but they work great as a way to keep an eye on the latest headlines and decide from there whether you want to click through to the full article. In fact, that’s how I found this post (iGoogle widget of Hacker News). Plus, they work great for podcast feeds and the like. It’s nice as a developer to have a generally agreed upon format for dynamically pulling in data from websites without having to keep up with a hundred one-off JSON APIs or whatever.

  • bradwestness

    I use iGoogle as my homepage and every widget I have is pulling RSS from somewhere. It’s great to have a standard way of pulling stuff in from multiple different sources. I can see why Firefox or Chrome don’t necessarily need to devote precious UI pixels to dealing with RSS feeds — they aren’t really intended to be read directly by humans (especially since most blogs and websites only give you an excerpt in the feed), but they work great as a way to keep an eye on the latest headlines and decide from there whether you want to click through to the full article. In fact, that’s how I found this post (iGoogle widget of Hacker News). Plus, they work great for podcast feeds and the like. It’s nice as a developer to have a generally agreed upon format for dynamically pulling in data from websites without having to keep up with a hundred one-off JSON APIs or whatever.

  • http://www.KingSidharth.com King Sidharth

    RSS is far from dead. Just because some people are dropping support doesn’t mean it’s losing ground. It’s just that they are not using it. Guh. 

    As far as Scoble is concerned, I hardly have any respect for him. What does he know about tech? Heck, what has he done in his life? Ever written 4 lines of code?

  • http://www.KingSidharth.com King Sidharth

    RSS is far from dead. Just because some people are dropping support doesn’t mean it’s losing ground. It’s just that they are not using it. Guh. 

    As far as Scoble is concerned, I hardly have any respect for him. What does he know about tech? Heck, what has he done in his life? Ever written 4 lines of code?