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Is Twitter Replacing the RSS Reader?

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rssLast Friday, I was attending Portland’s weekly Beer and Blog event, and I stumbled across what later turned out to be an interesting trend. I had two separate, unrelated conversations about an hour apart with people working in the technology industry who once used RSS readers but had mostly abandoned them in favor of using Twitter to find news and interesting blog posts. I talked to a couple of other friends and posted the question on Twitter, which confirmed that many people are using Twitter as an RSS reader replacement.

One of the people that I talked to at Beer and Blog was Jason Mauer, Senior Developer Evangelist for Microsoft and @jasonmauer on Twitter; he says:

“I follow Twitter for the conversation anyway, and have found it’s mostly duplicative to also follow the blog feeds of people I’m already following on Twitter. If they post something, I’ll usually hear about it in a tweet.

Where Twitter really pays off is through the power of social networking — interesting content surfaces naturally from people’s recommendations. I might not know that blogger at all who just wrote a really great post, but I’ll hear about it via retweeting. People I follow deliver content piping hot right to my desk. And unlike RSS, Twitter is two-way — the discussion is right there. I get more bang for the buck spending the precious resource that is attention on Twitter than on an RSS reader, which feels like a chore in comparison.”

Mike McClure, strategy and governance consultant and @mcclure on Twitter, says:

“I use twitter in lieu of an RSS reader for productivity and efficiency reasons. All but one of my news sites make announcements on Twitter anyway, so I don’t need to check yet another news source. If the news is big enough, it’ll be circulated enough that I’ll find out soon enough anyway. I’m an analyst not a reporter, so being first to see the news is less important to me than seeing a broad set of thoughts and opinions about the same news.

For real-time information there’s Twitter, for everything else there’s Google.”

McClure also mentioned that Twitter lists might make it even easier to use Twitter to keep up on news, since you can categorize groups of Twitter accounts to create news lists for even easier access to news feeds on Twitter.

These conversations got me thinking about how my use of RSS readers has changed. I am still an obsessive user of RSS, but the feeds that I check most often aren’t news related. I have feeds for Yahoo Pipes that track mentions of all my various projects, clients and other important information, and I regularly read feeds that have unique content that I wouldn’t otherwise find (web comics, niche blogs, online community content, etc.) However, I read my news feeds or mainstream blog feeds much less often than before. Most of the news that I would get from technology blogs has already been discussed and linked on Twitter by the time I get to it in my RSS reader, so I rarely need to read my news feeds.

The feedback on Twitter (as Twitter doesn’t store tweets indefinitely this link may not work in the future) shows that many people are replacing RSS readers with Twitter, but that doesn’t tell the entire story.

twitter feedback
As you can see, quite a few people have reduced their use of RSS readers, but like most trends, it isn’t universal. There are plenty of people — like me — who still use RSS readers for some feeds, but there are other people who have actually increased their RSS reading as a result of Twitter. The increased usage seems to fall into two categories: People who read Twitter in their RSS reader, and people who run across new things that they then add to their RSS reader.

Has Twitter changed the way you use an RSS reader?

44 Responses to “Is Twitter Replacing the RSS Reader?”

  1. Well I think that Twitter is actually a good source of instant small news alerts. But for more reading like articles etc twitter can not compete. So I think there is room for both. I use Google Reader but lately been trying out Fever RSS ( reader and Attency ( reader and one of these is going to replace google reader as soon as I can decide.

  2. I always found RSS readers too onerous, too like email. Things pile up; I get behind; I give up. Twitter has none of that. I can dip in find great content whenever I want. Sure I miss things but that’s life.

    On the other side of the coin I’ve recently launched a blog aggregator which publishes both to RSS and Twitter. RSS take up ben very slow and generates little traffic. By comparison the Twitter feed is growing rapidly and is very active.

    My take? The older school is always going to prefer conventional subscription services and not ‘get’ Twitter, but the number of people who do ‘get’ it and love it is on the increase. As an article consumer you have the choice of which to use, as an article provider to ignore twitter is to miss out on a growing source of well-targetted traffic.

    • Interesting analysis….

      RSS = “old school” (and how long has RSS been a REALLY prevelant delivery method?? A couple of years – tops??)

      Twitter = dip in when you want but miss things…well, that’s life

      I guess the summary is RSS = meaningful / Twitter = meaningless

      • I’m not saying that RSS is old school. I’m more saying that people with a modern mindset which is used to reading books, buying newspapers, watching documentaries and listening to albums is more likely to prefer subscription services. Whereas the post-modern mindset which is more used to soundbite television, google surfing, text messages and MP3 downloads is more likely to prefer twitter.

        Twitter can be meaningful. It’s just attention span deficit oriented.

      • So Ian, you’re saying that having an attention span is old school. I don’t think that’s an uncommon mindset, but I still disagree with it. I subscribe to well-written blogs I’ve decided are worth my time to read. Just about everything I’ve seen on Twitter or have been referred to on Twitter was completely useless. It’s like reading Digg or Reddit. I check back every few months, but I can’t remember a time when any of them provided a meaningful chunk of information to me. I’ll take one good article written about something I’d like to know about over 500 people trying to tweet over each other with nothing useful to say. I think it’s a pretty straightforward difference, and as soon as someone points out a solid use for Twitter I’ll spend a bit more time using it.

      • @Jesse

        I agree 100%.

        I am still waiting to find a Twitter feed worth reading – I have tried a few that were recommended and a few that I tried on my own and it was just a bunch of crap or links to blogs that I was already discovering in my RSS.

        The only really good thing I have ever seen on twitter is from –

        The worst part of twitter that I’ve seen is that I’ve seen some folks who had great blogs, reduce their high quality blog posts and replace them with low quality tweets.

      • Jesse. Just because you don’t understand a thing doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Lots of people use twitter and find it useful. Equally lots of people use RSS and find it useful. Both are used and loved by the people that they appeal to. I’m not saying that either camp is right or better. I’m not even saying that ‘old school’ is wrong. I’m pretty old school myself in lots of things – and I do think that having an attention span is a generally a good idea. However, as a method of sipping delicately from the gushing fire hydrant of information which is the internet, Twitter is (for me) the best tool I’ve found to date.

        On Twitter I follow bloggers who write well written blogs and then tweet links to their entries. I tune out (or don’t follow) people who tweet over each other with nothing to say. I also find links tweeted which lead me to meaningful chunks of information I would not have found any other way. But if I miss a few days I don’t come back to find stacks of unread posts. I think it’s a pretty straightforward difference too. I get that lots of people don’t like or understand Twitter. I was in the same camp when I first started using it.

  3. What about all the people who’ve tried Twitter and quit? I spent a few weeks trying out Twitter, and it was a complete waste. I got nothing good out of it, my RSS feeds are filtered and don’t show the idiotic drivel a lot of really great people barf into Twitter.

    Aside from most of Twitter’s traffic being irrelevant and useless, I don’t want to have to watch it 24/7 to be able to keep up with important events. Some people just read the Sunday newspaper, I read through my RSS reader once a day. It keeps me up-to-date, and after my experience with Twitter I don’t feel like I’m missing a single thing.

  4. A good RSS reader allows me to define watch lists, so I can focus not just on particular feeds, but on topics, such as “Iraq”, “Apple”, “Football”. Thus, I only have to pull up a watch list to browse a particular topic. I have yet to find a good Twitter Client allowing me to do so…

    Good and read-worthy writers publish not just a Twitter feed, but also via RSS. Why would I want to dump something first class (RSS reader) for something decidedly second class?

    BTW: we get three times more clicks from our RSS feed than we get from our Twitter subscription base which is three times larger. Most people who care about your stuff will not get it through Twitter. That might change, but it has not so far.

  5. It is true that there is some duplicity in following the Twitter feed of someone who you’re also subscribed to via RSS, but the real issue is signal vs. noise – I love to begin the day with a coffee and my RSS feeds which usually include ~100-150 new items and is more manageable than trawling through many many more Twitter posts over the same period for links to pics/vids/articles etc.

    Maybe Twitter clients will evolve into a kind of media aggregator one day…

  6. I am in my RSS reader multiple times, every day. I check Twitter every week or two.

    I have found that the quality of posts I see through RSS Reader is so much higher than by same person tweeting.

    I think Twitter has little to no value (not market cap but usefulness to me). I much prefer thoughtful, almost always longer blog posts to tweets. There just isn’t much that can be said in 140 characters that couldn’t be said better in a longer format.

    Clearly, I am in the minority because the rest of the world is falling all over themselves in a Twitter love fest. Oh well.

  7. Twitter is certainly not replacing my RSS reader, but I’d agree that more and more of the content on the service resembles that of RSS feeds. In fact, it seems many users now simply export their feeds directly to Twitter (and other services).

    For me, this has soured my Twitter experience somewhat, although the new “lists” feature has helped me keep the noise under control. I prefer to use the service primarily for conversation and keep my feeds separate, although I recognize the value to others who wish to do things differently.

  8. Mike Dunham

    “I use twitter in lieu of an RSS reader for productivity and efficiency reasons.”

    This is a crock. If you’re not watching Twitter, you miss whatever is happening on Twitter while you’re not watching Twitter. Not so with my RSS reader – all the content sits and waits on me to process it. Ironically, several of the feeds I review in my RSS reader are Twitter streams.

    The other problem with Twitter is that the signal-to-noise ratio is WAY too low for me to be “productive” following Twitter.

  9. Some of the folks writing the blogs I read haven’t (believe it or not) made it onto Twitter. I find though that my peeps on Twitter turn me on to new blogs that I didn’t know about before, and I then subscribe via RSS. Though I read a lot of tweets and blog posts, I don’t find an enormous amount of duplicity. If I do it’s easy enough to unsubscribe from an RSS feed.

  10. I wrote an article on RSS and Twitter yesterday (below). My take: RSS is very much alive (though I use Twitter a lot too). It’s apples and oranges mostly. RSS is the output engine for many things unavailable on Twitter. Twitter is often too cryptic and when I want to read give me RSSs’ full content feed over any day. So much more efficient. RSS can be a time drain though, so efficiency is key, as is true with Twitter.

  11. RSS Feeders are more like news paper subscription while tweets with links to blogs are more like a friend saying hey check out this article in the paper you probably don’t subscribe too.

  12. I use them differently. I check my RSS reader at least once a day and while there may be stories I’ve already read on twitter, there are always other stories that I haven’t seen and am interested in.

    There is so much constantly occurring on Twitter that I miss a lot if I’m not sitting and staring at Tweetdeck. My RSS reader lets me sit down when I want to and take the time the see all of the stories from the blogs I like.

  13. I guess I’m a little confused by the premise. RSS is an open standard while Twitter is a service provided by a little company that is as well known for “fail whale” as anything else.

    To say that Twitter would replace RSS is as likely as saying Gmail will replace all SMTP……

    The problem with real-time is that it is, well, real-time i.e. ephemeral. If you don’t see it, you won’t read it and likely won’t search for it either.


  14. I think it’s interesting the Google has taken the way that Twitter surfaces interesting content in a social way by adding the “Like” feature. I don’t think Twitter will replace RSS, but for discovering new content it’s great.

  15. How we digest content individually is a part of this as well… there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach. For me personally, I have a hard time sometimes keeping a RSS reader from filling up with unread posts. This is partly due to being busy with other things at times, but also because I’m just not organized enough to keep up.

    Twitter is easier for me to follow since the firehose doesn’t pile up. Sure I may miss things, but I don’t have an ever growing list of unread information haunting me either. For me that’s a good thing; for someone else it might not.

  16. One of the problems I found with using Twitter and RSS feeds together is the amount of noise that comes through them both. So we are working on cutting down on that noise with Cadmus ( By grouping similar posts from your Twitter and RSS feeds it makes the services more complementary.

  17. This is interesting because I’ve sort-of gone through the same thing. For awhile I dumped my RSS reader completely and followed my favorite bloggers on Twitter, I use my RSS now for mostly client searches, etc, vs actual blog posts, but unfortunately there’s still a bunch of bloggers who aren’t on Twitter.

  18. I just don’t get that. I dip in and out of Twitter throughout the day but I know that my Google reader is always there, queuing things up for me to read. Much of which is read on the go and if I clicked on all those links on my iPhone, the reading experience wouldn’t be nearly as simple as using Google Reader for the iPhone. For those you can’t miss, you need to subscribe via RSS. The rest you can learn about via Twitter.