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The Death Of The RSS Reader

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:


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

34 Responses to “The Death Of The RSS Reader”

  1. twitter and facebook are not replacing RSS readers. my theory is that people are just getting self absorbed and absorbed in facebook and twitter, and are ignoring the news more, which are depressing and hopeless. it doesn’t prove that those tools are replacing RSS, but rather, taking over all the time spent by people tending to their farms and mafias and re-tweeting what kanye said, people used to spend educating themselves on events.

  2. My guess is that some of that traffic has moved to smart phones or iPads. Twitter is simply not very useful unless you already have some degree of fame. Scoble should create a John Smith account and see if any one responds to his tweets. If you are trying to find tech news or info on a specific topic, RSS readers are invaluable. Twitter and Facebook are pretty much useless.

  3. I found this article through my Google Reader. I would have never found it through Twitter or Facebook because of the clutter. So no, the RSS Feed is far from dead; in fact Twitter and Facebook are pushing the RSS even further by giving us an outlet to discuss those feeds we follow.

  4. By definition RSS feeds and other XML based content publication is meant for machine reading. Indeed it is the basis of Semantic web which aims to add extra knowledge to any piece of information that is available online. RSS feeds in their singularity might not be popular among people but they are essential tenets in publishing and automatically analyzing content on the web. Inasmuch as traffic from people to individual feeds is dropping, I believe that those consuming the feeds (typically machines) consume large quantities of the feeds. For example My Nucleus ( ) takes advantage of RSS feeds and other API based publication mechanisms to collect content and mash it up with social media input to recommend popular stories to people while eliminating crap and bias. There are a variety of implementations for services like My Nucleus that consume feeds and that should be evidence to the fact that RSS feeds are more pupular to machines than humans and therefore feeds in their self right are still popular if not more popular than in the past.

  5. Once I discovered the Feedly extension for Firefox/Safari/Chrome I really started to make use of my Google Reader subscriptions. I don’t use Google Reader directly. If you have RSS feeds, I highly recommend checking out Feedly.

  6. As several others have commented, an RSS feed is where I go to access my personalized feeds. I’m a big Twitter user but can’t rely on my network to find and publish everything of interest to me. My interests are strictly professional, education related. As the Twitter stream flows past I’m not always there to fish out the bits I want but when I go to my reader, the gems are there waiting for me.

  7. undertoad

    This is all it is: people “get” Twitter quickly, but understanding RSS and how to subscribe to feeds is not always obvious. That’s it, that’s the whole thing.


    Once I figured out that I could get an RSS feed of a specific Craigslist search, I was hooked. I’m looking to buy an aquarium, so every morning, in two clicks, I get a list of everyone in the area selling them. Once you have a use for RSS it never goes away, no matter how many bombastic headlines are written about tech trends. We will use Twitter for the things it makes sense to use Twitter for, Facebook for the things it makes sense to use Facebook for, and we will goddamn subscribe to things when it makes sense to subscribe to them. End of post.

  8. I think it is obvious why it is happening. 3 Years ago, just a short part of media and content producing companies were present at social networks as Facebook and Twitter (or at least they weren’t publishing as much content as they were doing in their own website). Nowadays the reality is different. Companies have done a great effort to “empower” their social network presence, publishing almost every kind of information in their “wall”, allowing it’s followers to have access to fresh content as they add with RSS Readers plus the great feature of getting their friends/colleagues/specialists/whatever opinion about the content all in the same place.

    In my case, I am not surely part of those statistics, as I use all of them (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Feed’s Reader) with distinct purposes, and I even increased my use of RSS Reader lately.

  9. Before we all scream that the sky is falling, we need to look at the actual analysis. It is limited to news and media visits. I for one am not a fan of getting media in my rss feed but don’t mind a youtube clip in my Facebook feed. Furthermore, many of my rss feeds are completely customized and come from non-news sites. So I highly doubt that actual usage or adoption of Google Reader is on the decline. Nothing to see here folks, keep on moving.

  10. *Maybe* RSS is dead as a “personal” aggregating tool which I’m inclined to agree that in some ways Twitter has taken over as a feeder of headline tips. Not completely, however, because I agree with most commentators here that one has to explain how folks are relying on Twitter to organize and mark lists of information neatly and concisely. Twitter does not do that and one reason people rely on RSS readers *is* to do that stuff. Why would I count on CNN’s tweets to keep me abreast of its headlines when, in a particularly busy stream those headlines might float away downstream before I ever have a chance to see it? It just doesn’t work. For light scale or non-critical headline tip-offs, sure. And maybe that’s the dent we see as the downturn. But it won’t go much further if so.

    I would theorize another reason is that it’s hip to visit the websites directly once again. People who tried newsreaders (not diehards like you or I) probably found them slightly difficult to setup and maintain. Plus, after trying a reader, it may have all come to feel a lot like e-mail which may have left many people asking why they bother. Reading a train of news via a reader disassociates an audience from the personality and features of a given content provider, and it’s not too crazy to speculate that audiences wound up resenting that and craving the actual provider’s website experience in total. Just a thought.

    In any event, if RSS really is declining as a “personal” aggregation tool, it will still remain one of the best ways to exchange web content between websites behind the scenes which is more in line with its original purpose (hence *syndication*). I can’t believe anyone providing serious content to the web not providing an RSS feed based on the notion that use of personal readers is dropping.

    – Dave

  11. SnarkFit for Seniors

    Not another one of those “Blank is Dead” pieces. Next thing you know it’ll be “Ten Incredible Reasons Why RSS is Dead!” Haven’t you people heard of Brent Simmons?

  12. This one definitely has me worried. I agree that RSS readers are broken but dead? There will always be diehard RSS fans and they will always be power users. Luckily, Google is the best place to have the “last RSS reader” standing. Brilliant staff and ever-flowing resources. Still a sad trend though.

  13. Strongly disagree!

    I loved Bloglines years ago but when they started having all their outages maybe two years ago, I got tired and switched to Google Reader. I’d be lost without my RSS feeds.

    BTW: I got here from the NY Times Blogroll RSS feed. [lol]

  14. Bloglines was the first RSS reader I ever found useful – mainly due to the web-based nature of it. And I was very happy to meet a couple of members of the team when I first attended Gnomedex.

    But then the product just sort of froze and eventually I switch over to Google Reader. Where I still go occasionally but much less often than I did a few years ago.

  15. I’ve heard tell of the death of RSS for some time now. It still is, for me, my central hub for all things recommended to myself. In fact, I pull my Twitter timeline into it, and all Facebook notifications, so it’s really my central hub for all news online. It’s also become a personal database of sorts, with tagging, starring, etc. Oh, and I can feed any of the items into whatever service I choose- share via Twitter, save to Instapaper, Evernote, send to delicious, etc. Not to mention the “explore” option to discover new content. If RSS dies, consider me ticked.

  16. But I use FaceBook & Twitter to see what others recommend to me and to recommend links to my network. RSS is what I recommend to myself. Very different purposes for me. Hard to dispute the stats if they bear out that most of the world is more interested only in peer networks. But for me, that’s only a piece of my information diet.

  17. “The Death Of The RSS Reader”. Seriously?

    Twitter and Facebook are in no way substitutes for RSS readers. Unless I’m missing the point, they don’t track website updates in any particularly co-ordinated manner, which is essential if you want to keep up to date with news. Also, while I like my friends on Facebook and contacts on Twitter, I wouldn’t trust their editorial abilities to filter out crap; indeed, some will have a natural bias towards certain stories. At their best, Facebook and Twitter are sources of miscellaneous, superfluous info. I go there to share stuff, sure, but I don’t go there to find stuff.

  18. The steady rise in usage (until recently) of Google Reader and Bloglines could be attributed more to refugees from discontinued feed-readers than late adopters of one of Web 2.0’s groundbreaking technologies. Thanks to automation, RSS remains the easiest and most reliable way to keep track of all events of interest, if one follows the right feeds (as in twitter).

    Case in point: I discovered this article in Yahoo Finance’s GOOG RSS news feed (which provides comprehensive and fairly timely coverage on all things GOOG)

    RSS is a one-way form of communication by definition (hence the ‘syndication’). In contrast, news sites feature stories of import more prominently, and in turn users vote for their interests through facebook likes, retweets, and myriad social link-sharing sites. Editorializing (weeding out redundant/uninteresting material) is the key human element RSS lacks in its current format. Until that changes, RSS’s social influence and hence growth potential remains limited.

    Another case in point: One can better gauge responses to this (and most other stories) by viewing the twitter retweets, which outnumber comments on the actual blog post.

  19. This is exactly true. RSS reader is just a time-consuming application and another form of e-entertainment for people in regard to their interests or what not. It should be better integrated into Mail Application like one we have on Mac or Outlook express for PC. Although the feature is already available in those mail app more improvement is needed to cross-function as a single application that does all. Whether it is RSS, e-Newsletter, or Blog feeds, it is essentially the same thing.

  20. I can’t help thinking that this news outlet, and others, have a vested interest in undermining RSS Readers.

    Bloglines is more useful that Twitter – it’s reliable, whereas Twitter is more random in finding news. I’ve Exported my OPML as it is valuable to me.

    Yes, it’s personal to me – more than who I “follow”.