Instapaper creator Marco Arment’s post The Power of the RSS Reader decries the rumors that RSS is a dying means for online communication. Written after the fallout from Google’s announcement that they’re shutting down Google Reader on July 1, 2013, Arment, like thousands of others in the tech community and beyond, began to question whether RSS itself would continue to exist without its (seemingly) most stalwart proponent, Google.
He makes the case that “If RSS readers go away, I won’t suddenly start visiting all of these sites — I’ll probably just forget about most of them.” He’s referring to niche sites, which have more readers to lose should RSS start pushing up the digital daisies. Though a majority of pageviews stem from social media, direct access, search, and email referrals, RSS still ensures that those who know how to use an RSS reader will always be able to keep in touch with the sites that likely mean the most to them personally.
And how do these little sites often get noticed in the first place? Trusted curators, i.e. people who use RSS readers to keep tabs on hundreds of topically relevant blogs. If RSS succumbs to a gruesome demise, curators will have a much more challenging job of finding content to share with their networks. The Internet as a whole would suffer, as it’s the curators’ job to help those who can’t spend hours online finding relevant and interesting content.
RSS has apparently been on its deathbed for awhile. Rest in Peace, RSS is a TechCrunch article from 2009. Another TechCrunch article, from this year at least, makes a few valid points. In Google Reader’s Death Is Proof That RSS Always Suffered From Lack Of Consumer Appeal, Drew Olanoff asserts that Twitter, Flipboard and Facebook have replaced his need for an RSS reader. Instead of drinking from the fire-hydrant that can be one’s RSS feed, he’s much more prone to sip from the links sent his way by those he trusts online. However, I’d guess that many of those trusted individuals found those links via RSS.
I don’t think RSS should die, but I wonder how much control we have over whether or not it will. Google’s shuttering of Reader is the largest death knell to date for the seemingly increasingly outdated mode of content consumption. On the other hand, another RSS reader, Feedly, has reported growth of three million new subscribers. The market’s still there, even if the market consists of millions of tech writers.
It’s my hope that RSS lives on well into old age. It’s too useful for it not to. The sad thing is that old age in Internet speak may only be a decade or two. As RSS is a 14-year-old medium, we should hope to have it for at least six more years.
Do you use an RSS reader? If so, how often? If not, why not, and how do you typically consume content without RSS?