With Google shutting down Google Reader by July 1st, 2013, rumors of the impending death of RSS have sprung up… yet again. This is silly. RSS is not dying. If anything, it’s probably headed for an extreme makeover that will vastly improve its adoption by casual users. In this I agree with Dave Winer, noted software developer, who wrote:
“I don’t doubt that people will be well-served by a newly revitalized market for RSS products, now that the dominant product, the 800-pound gorilla, is withdrawing.”
The fact is Google chucks its products the minute it stops fulfilling a business objective, whether that be the collection of user data or the creation of profit. See Wave, or Buzz, or Friends Connect, or Gears or any of the retired technologies in the Google Graveyard (compiled by Slate.com)
Why RSS Won’t Die
Here’s why RSS won’t die:
RSS is a Backbone Technology for Providing Data
RSS is a core tool for the distribution of data from your website to various channels and is the backbone for many content creators and news agencies. A majority of websites and blogs offer RSS feeds automatically, whether you want it or not. Because it’s pretty much ubiquitous on the web, everyone’s benefited from its technology in some way or another: from keeping track of comments you wrote on a blog post, to being notified of sale items, to getting an alert with every new blog post .
RSS is Unlike Facebook and Twitter
RSS is an open web standard, meaning the technology isn’t created and controlled by a single for-profit company who can throw it away once it ceases to make money or who can tightly control what you can or can’t do with it. Social media channels like Twitter and Facebook may be able to deliver the news you need right now, but what if they decide to take away free accounts tomorrow or somehow limit what you can read or post? You have no control over what a company does with a free service you don’t pay for, and which lives on their servers.
Unlike Facebook, there is no algorithm that automatically chooses and filters which articles to show you based on your LIKES. Rather, you are in control, you get to choose what to subscribe to and RSS delivers everything from that subscription.
Unlike Twitter, you get more than 140 character summaries of articles or comments. Also, if you organize your Twitter reading using lists, you’ll notice a limit of 500 people per list. With RSS, there are no limits outside those of your computer or mobile device.
Why RSS Never Took Off
Admittedly, RSS never caught fire with the general public due in part to an ignorance about what it even does, apart from the technical know-how needed to set up and then use an RSS reader on a regular basis.
I’ve fielded a lot of comments from friends (and elders) about RSS being too complicated for the casual user. And yet those same people are thrilled when I show them how you can subscribe to a favorite blog via email.
I also get the feeling that RSS readers were too “disconnected” from social media channels for the younger set to adopt. After all, if you live on Tumblr or Facebook and Instagram, the lack of social integration with RSS readers (“What is Chuck subscribed to?” “I’m favoriting your favorite!”) could be a deterrent. But the skills to use it are already there: there isn’t much difference between hitting a LIKE button and an RSS subscribe button.
But just because the masses haven’t flocked to RSS like they have to Twitter doesn’t mean it’s going away anytime soon. And even if it did, there would have to be some replacement technology.
Razib Khan on Discover Magazine says it best:
“So even if the RSS format dies, I’m pretty sure there would be applications which specialized in scraping data from websites and organizing it in an RSS-like manner.”
And if you’re interested, there’s a more comprehensive dissection of why RSS still matters over at The Verge.
PHOTO CREDITS: “RSS” by Fabricio Zuardi on Flickr.