The Open Web: Where does RSS fit in?

People are saying RSS is dying/dead. Dave Winer believes in the Open Web, and does not like corporate blogging silos. This started of as a reply to his post, but became too lengthy so it has become a blog post. I posit geeks/news junkies love RSS, but the average user does not care. After all RSS and HTML are different delivery mechanisms with different consumption patterns.

I dig RSS. I’ve been using it for years. I converted my HTML only journal to a blog some seven years ago because it provided a RSS feed. I’ve consumed RSS for probably longer than that, switching between many clients over the years (some on Linux, some on Mac OS X, some on the web, some on the iPad – the winner really is Google Reader for me). I have participated in making some Planets, and using RSS in various other ways. Werribee Open Range Zoo

I am also a geek. I cannot fathom a better way to consume news, blogs, etc. I can read several hundred sites a day by skimming through things – I would physically never do this in a browser. I cringe when people only expose partial RSS feeds, because the click-through ensures people get a view in a browser and the ads start showing up. Google solved this problem a tad bit by providing AdSense for Feeds, but that assumes the content creator is not a lifestyle blogger.

Earlier today afternoon, while I was ending on a conference call and just about to get back into the groove of getting some work done, I noticed Dave Winer’s Twitter feed, in what seemed to be him going all defensive about RSS and baiting several folk. He then wrote this piece: What I mean by “the open web”.

Now, when people state “RSS is dying/dead”, they are not taking a potshot at Dave Winer. Technologies come and go, some evolve, and some die. As much as a group of people like something, if it lacks critical mass, it does not keep going on.

A few days back, I read: RSS is Dying Being Ignored, and You Should Be Very Worried. The author points to the Firefox Heatmap, which show that less than 7% of the people that use Firefox, use the built-in RSS reader. In fact, in Firefox 4.0, there will be no RSS button by default. Chrome already has no RSS reader. Heck, I never click on the RSS button in Firefox, because I have my own RSS reader of choice (Google Reader).

I digress. How many normal users know RSS? How many normal users use RSS?

We are a consumption economy. It seems people rather bookmark sites and visit them on a daily basis, than read RSS feeds. Heck, I would not be surprised that people have forgotten how to bookmark – they just use the location toolbar to find things (AwesomeBar, etc. help in this respect). Besides, how many people need to visit a hundred sites to get their daily news fix? Not everyone is a news junkie.

In 2010, Facebook overtook Google in terms of traffic (in North America at least). People are getting their information via their friends. I see more and more people post links on Facebook, pictures on Facebook, and more. Twitter seems to have overtaken blogging – how many events do you see get live-blogged any longer? They get live tweets which you can follow via a hashtag.

Do I like this? Hell no. The dependance on silos is terrible because these services may not be around forever. In 2010 alone, we saw the demise of drop.io (Facebook acquisition). We probably saw the demise of delicious (Yahoo! claims its alive but is ready for acquisition). What will be next? Bit.ly? Flickr? Worse, live-tweeting an event is useless in the following year – Twitter’s archives don’t go far back, and a blog (HTML) is a lot more permanent.

TechCrunch is a publication, Dave. They are not going to keep all their content on Facebook, Twitter and Quora. They make money through advertising dollars, and none of these silos is going to help them make money. I do not know how much TechCrunch earns via RSS advertising, but they sure as heck earn a lot more from advertising on their website. And for their niche (tech news reporting, some may say), their stats don’t lie. Even the geeks are finding TechCrunch articles via Hacker News or Reddit (for example). Of course, Google News and TechMeme both in TechCrunch’s Top 10 referrer list, probably get articles via RSS :)

Since RSS is dead, according to them, the web must also be dead. I just don’t see how RSS could be dead and HTML would be thriving. They’re really different faces of the same thing.

RSS and HTML are not the same thing Dave. HTML is read in a web-browser, something most Internet-capable devices come pre-loaded with. RSS is useful for geeks who “pipe” things, or people that consume a lot of information. It is however not usually done in a web browser, but another client or piece of software (that is not pre-installed).

Understand that RSS and HTML are different delivery mechanisms with different consumption patterns.

This blog, in December 2010, had a 8:1 ratio of serving HTML:RSS. This month, when I published nothing yet (first post for the new year – Happy New Year folk!), we’re looking at a 13:1 ratio.

Will RSS die? I doubt it. It does not cost a publisher anything to publish a feed. It might be stifled by “excerpt” feeds (partial RSS feeds), and that could eventually kill it, but I doubt its going to be gone anytime soon. Will people consume information via different sources? Definitely. They already are. Flipboard does scraping, and thats a good workaround from partial feeds. Safari has a Reader option.

Follow the user. Follow how they are consuming things. Tablets are becoming more popular. How will that change user behaviour?

  • Hakan Kuecuekyilmaz

    I tried Google Reader a while ago but somehow I like Netvibes http://www.netvibes.com/ for aggregating RSS feeds.

  • Just to be clear, Firefox 4 will have all of the support for RSS/Atom that it had previously, but the _UI_ for RSS will be changed from the orange chicklet in the url bar to a “Subscribe to This Page” link in the Bookmarks menu. This was done because the overwhelming percentage of Firefox users had no idea what the orange chicklet was or what it did. Some users hate any kind of change- that's unfortunate but we have to evolve with the times. Is the current implementation ideal? Probably not but we're open to ideas and Firefox is the most extensible of the major browsers so if you'd like to keep your orange chicklet or design something else, any of that is possible.

    • Yup, just the icon goes away by default, but everything else remains. I am all for this change – I really have a feeling not many people know what that orange chicklet means. We have to look beyond technology/news circles to realise that RSS is not as widely used elsewhere.

      cheers,

      -c

  • I dont think many people care about RSS in the internet world. I often get some comments on my blog asking for the RSS link, but I mark it as spam, as there would be nothing about the post and everything that they comment would be only on RSS and even they dont know anything about it.
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