The Death Of The RSS Reader

Crystal Ball

A weekly look at a story that is defining the news.

IAC (NSDQ: IACI) notoriously let Bloglines deteriorate since buying it five years ago; the company outsourced the RSS reader’s engineering team to China several years ago and by the time it made the announcement today that it would shut down the service, Bloglines no longer had a dedicated staff at all. But Bloglines’ shut down was likely inevitable whether IAC had taken better care of it or not, as people have shifted away from RSS readers over the last two years.

There have been predictions since at least 2006, when Pluck shut its RSS reader down that “consumer RSS readers” were a dead market, because, as ReadWriteWeb wrote then, they were “rapidly becoming commodities,” as RSS reading capabilities were integrated into other products like e-mail applications and browsers. And, indeed, a number of consumer-oriented RSS readers, including News Alloy, Rojo, and News Gator, shut down in recent years.

At the same time, traffic to two RSS readers — Bloglines and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) Reader — continued to grow. As recently as mid-2008, Hitwise said that both Bloglines and Google Reader were “growing rapidly” and represented “a huge potential disruption for media companies.” Visits to Bloglines at the time were up 158 percent year-over-year, while traffic to Google Reader was up 267 percent.

But people no longer seem to be abandoning certain readers for others — or for other ways to access those same feeds. Instead, they appear to be abandoning RSS readers as a way to read the news altogether. Hitwise, for instance, tells us that visits to Google Reader are down 27 percent year-over-year, while visits to Bloglines are down 71 percent year-over-year. comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) figures show that traffic to Bloglines has largely stagnated:

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Likely to blame is that people are increasingly turning to services like Facebook and Twitter to manage what they read instead instead of RSS readers. As Hitwise’s Heather Hopkins wrote last February, Facebook accounted for about 3.52 percent of all visits to news and media sites. Google Reader’s (shrinking) total back then stood at 0.01 percent.

Indeed, in its announcement, Bloglines similarly blames broader trends for its demise, saying, “As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year, being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology

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