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Sure, RSS Is Dead — Just Like the Web Is Dead

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A brush fire has been swirling through the blogosphere of late over whether RSS is dead, dying, or possibly severely injured and in need of assistance. It seems to have started with a post from UK-based web designer Kroc Camen that got picked up by Hacker News and re-tweeted a lot. The flames were fanned by a blog post from TechCrunch that drove RSS developer Dave Winer into a bit of a Twitter frenzy. But is RSS actually doomed, or even ailing? Not really. Like plenty of other technologies, it is just becoming part of the plumbing of the real-time web.

Camen’s criticisms seem focused on the fact that Firefox doesn’t make it easy to find or subscribe to RSS feeds from within the browser (although Mozilla staffer Asa Dotzler takes issue with that case in a comment near the bottom of the post). Instead of the usual RSS icon, he says, there is nothing except an entry in a menu. But did anyone other than a handful of geeks and tech aficionados make use of those RSS icons? It’s not clear that many regular web users have done so — or ever will. Browsers like Internet Explorer (s msft) have had built-in support for RSS for years, but there’s little sign of it becoming mainstream.

So can we say that RSS is dead? Sure — in the same way that HTML is dead, or the web itself is dead (if the “death of RSS” idea seems familiar, that’s because it has reared its head several times before). There used to be plenty of HTML editors out there, which allowed people to create their own websites and web pages, but they never really went mainstream either, and HTML has evolved to the point where it’s a specialty that requires actual programming skills in order to be effective. Is that bad thing? Not if you make a living as a web designer. Hypertext markup language has become part of the plumbing of the web, and now allows far more utility than it used to.

In a similar vein, Wired magazine recently advanced the argument that the web is dead, based largely on some faulty data and a perception that apps for devices like the iPhone and iPad (s aapl) are taking over from the regular web. While there is some reason for concern about walled gardens such as Facebook and the control that Apple continues to exert over its ecosystem — as both the web’s inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and law professor Tim Wu have argued in separate opinion pieces — the reality is that the web is continuing to evolve, and apps could well be just an interim step in that evolution.

In the same way, RSS has become a crucial part of how web content gets fed from blogs and other sites into real-time services such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as aggregation apps like Flipboard, as CEO Mike McCue noted during the debate between Winer and TechCrunch. Do Twitter and Facebook compete with RSS to some extent, in terms of content discovery? Sure they do — but they also benefit from it. Along with real-time publishing tools such as Pubsubhubbub, RSS is one of the things that provides a foundation for the apps and services we see all around us, including real-time search (and plenty of people still use RSS readers, says venture capital blogger Fred Wilson).

The fact that RSS may be fading in terms of mainstream user awareness is actually a good thing rather than a bad one. The sooner people can forget about it because it just works in the background, the better off we’ll all be — in the same way many of us have forgotten (if we ever knew) how the internal-combustion engine works, because we no longer have to pull over and fix them ourselves.

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Post and thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user Les Chatfield

58 Responses to “Sure, RSS Is Dead — Just Like the Web Is Dead”

  1. I wouldn’t write off anything yet. No matter what your genre be it entertaining people or selling product you need every tool you can get to penetrate and overcome all the noise out there. Ultimately it all comes down to customer loyalty and satisfaction, confidence in your product and service. Without that forget it.

    In my experience I found the more genuine and honest you are with customers the higher your chances of success. When customers are talking positive about you the word get’s around.

    What I really see right now is a shift is starting to occur. I do believe we are in another tech bubble that is expanding at alarming rates also. When that blows life will go on as it always does but it ain’t going to be pretty. Obviously it was mature company’s that survived say the bust.

    Lastly not everyone has the marketing budgets we had back in the 90’s, but it’s wise to make sure your promotions, ads, and marketing truly live up to the hype. Very important and that’s going to be a key element in this shift we are now experiencing. Part of this shift is a general trend of certain demographics wearing out sort of speak on hyper information overload and the kind of fierce competition for their eye’s and ears that is occurring. Mind share happens but it is at a point were the constant bombardment is producing a numbing effect rather then capturing the hearts and minds of your target market.

    My guess is RSS is being rejected mostly by those who haven’t figured out anyway to benefit from it so they are giving it the boot at least in their mind.

    My philosophy is if even just one reader or customer is enjoying and benefiting from RSS that is a positive. Besides that it’s free to use. How can that not be a win win?

  2. So the web and RSS are being called DOA but the problem is we use these components every day. The truth of the matter is they are not dead but becoming mainstream. Since they are no longer hot and sexy but apart of the daily landscape that makes them dead? Is that what this non-technical person is hearing? George Clooney is a daily part of the landscape but I still find him sexy. Shouldn’t he be dead by this same definition?

  3. I hope RSS does not die, I learned what it was! Google reader is an excelent tool for getting feeds from all kinds of different blogs/websites. They have an android app for reading on the go, which helps to stay current.

  4. RSS better not be dying… it’s how I get all my news! Who wants to jump around to dozens of websites looking for content when you can just as easily tell Google Reader to amalgamate it all for you. I tend to not even bother with sites that don’t let me grap the content in an RSS feed – and don’t get me started about sites that have feeds with noting but a link!

  5. RSS is not only the pumbling, but also part of the very fabric of content distribution.

    So much value and innovation has been added around RSS. We shouldn’t judge RSS just by looking at traditional “RSS readers”, which represent the easiest ways to consume RSS. Look at the presentation layer innovations brought on by FlipBoard or deep personalization innovations that we offer via Eqentia where we insulate the user from manipulating the RSS feed itself while giving full benefits of curation, filtering, re-publishing, social media metrics, etc…

    So much innovation has enveloped RSS, it has rendered it invisible. It’s like the “Intel inside”.

  6. I want to take issue with the comment that web design is like programming.

    You do not need, and never needed, RSS or WordPress, or anything — web design isn’t hard, especially with sites like, which will even get you through php and the harder parts.

    But really, it’s still like 1995 — the best web sites are simple and well-designed and don’t use all the bells and whistles. Social bookmarking sites are where it’s at, because RSS was always pretty unfiltered.

    Just that it’s more work to submit to digg and reddit and stumbleupon in the hopes of some viral success — and work isn’t always the tech-geek’s highest priority…

  7. Disclaimer: I am a noob. I am not tech savvy so take this as a comment from the comment man, not a techie.

    I work at a newspaper and RSS is vital to our online presence. We use RSS to feed out Twitter, YouTube and Facebook pages with links to our content. I don’t know how much the average online reader uses RSS, but as a part of a web page design I think it is an important option to have readily available.


  8. I think Camen has some points, but RSS isn’t the solution to general web-browsing. I used netvibes religiously as my RSS reader for a few months and then I realized that RSS wasn’t exposing me to the content that I wanted. So for some sites I use RSS and the rest I regularly check: your post I found by Morning Coffee checking into Freshly Pressed. I find more interesting things through and Twitter. These three routes serve different purposes: specific sites go to RSS, general news with Morning Coffee and links posted by people I know and share interests with come from As you said, simply a part of the web.

  9. I agree with other commenters that the rss discussion came about as a “Firefox” issue, but I think that there’s a bigger point that most people are missing. I am a blogger and consequently am interested in a fair amount of content from other blogs-I recognize that I’m probably not reflective of the average content consumer. Rather than subscribe to a ton of e-newsletters, or trying to catch posts via Twitter, I use Netvibes to pull the rss feeds into a single, dynamic web page-it saves me a ton of time and I love it. I don’t think it’s relevant how many people are using web browsers to manage rss feeds because I think there’s a tremendous network of people out there using sites like netvibes, alltop, pageflakes and others to consume their content via rss feed. I don’t think that rss feeds will vanish, but like some of the other commenters, I think it will evolve. Thanks for sharing this post!

  10. I read the original Camen article, and was very surprised at the browser focus – I’ve always used My Yahoo, and of course there are other online ways to read the RSS feeds in a uniform layout from any browser on any machine. I’ve never even looked at what FireFox and Chrome do with RSS feeds.

  11. The problem with mainstream acceptance of RSS lies in the fact that media doesn’t support it, because it separates content from formatting, which means “the source.” Hence, no publicity. In my view, there is something seriously wrong with any news person who doesn’t use RSS, a total disregard for reality in the midst of sea changes to the industry. Sadly, however, this is the norm.

  12. Maybe I’m missing the point but no less than two hours of my daily web browsing (I’m low-balling this) is spent in Google Reader, not to mention the news apps I use on my phone and Cr-48, on top of Twitter, that use RSS to deliver news. Seems far from dead to me.

  13. Its too premature to say that RSS is dead.You are right that it is going in background and going in background does not mean that it has lost its relevance.Indeed it simply means that it is going to play a vital role.
    How can RSS be dead when so many website is based on this.Techmeme,All top etc.So this is a baseless debate.

  14. littlebouddha

    Great post, thanks, i’m not sure Rss or web is dead but your rss link is really dead lol
    What will make the web of tomorrow is the gain of time, centralisation but with full control of your datas…
    indeed i think web is dead

  15. If the HTML spec was frozen at version 2.0 then the web could have easily died. RSS as a consumer facing technology is critically ill. The irony is that Winer is most responsible for this result. He is more concerned about his legacy and he fears that loosening his grip on the spec would diminish that. If Dave was as smart as he thinks he is then he would accept that RSS needs to evolve and become more usable to people that don’t care about its technological underpinnings. It should just work and obviously it hasn’t and won’t until something changes.

  16. A few months ago I finally unsubscribed to most blog networks that will remain anonymous and added pretty much everything GigaOm offers en masse.

    This article and the recent TC debacle about RSS is an example of why. While everyone else seems to be circling the drain with more sensationalist headlines and the negative comments such stories attract, I can come to GigaOm for more honest and reasonable analysis. This is also reflected in the good natured comments people leave, even if the people posting the comments don’t necessarily agree with the author.

    Thank you Mathew, Om Malik and everyone else at GigaOm for your integrity and for continuing to setting a good example in the face of all this negativity.

  17. Brandon

    Extremely well put. Hopefully we can turn the DEFCON alarm back down now and all breathe deeply.

    I do think RSS has actually achieved mainstream adoption though. The truth is, ton’s of users use RSS every day but most just don’t realize that’s what it is or care.

    Just like tons of people use HTML, JPEGS, MP3s, etc. All “mainstream” technologies but not necessarily household words, and they never will be. To the end-user, the product just works and who cares what’s under the hood.

    The average end-user doesn’t give a damn. He/She just wants to read their news.

  18. Hi Mathew,

    Happy New Year! Best wishes for 2011.

    I think that there is a more interesting angle to this story than RSS, versus tweets versus Website crawling for content syndication.

    The biggest lesson we have learnt in feedly over the last two years is that the hard part is the personalization – the creation and maintenance of the users interest graph (not how you syndicate content).

    Twitter is very suffering from the same problem: who are the interesting people to follow, how do you go beyond what is happening right now to what is important/most relevant, how to you understand and cluster things, etc. etc..

    The core innovation in this space will happen in how easy and transparent the personalization will be and how effective and contextual the filtering will be.

    Twitter is a great sharing and amazing networking tool but it does not really have any competitive advantage when it come to personalization and filtering, specially given that the users interest graph will be most likely fragmented across different services [twitter, facebook, google reader, quora, stackoverflow, dribbble, flickr, etc..].

    What facebook is doing with the like buttons and the open graph is a lot more interesting.

    The battle for the hyper personalization is just starting. My guess is that there will not be one solution but actually a lot of different experiences. Ideally all those experiences will be built on top of an interest graph which will be open and portable.

    Edwin, co-founder/CEO

  19. amigosito

    Great post, I’ve seen a lot of controversy swirling around this issue, including Asa’s rather rude reply to Camen’s criticism. My own take is that neither RSS nor the Web are dead. It’s Firefox that is actually dying. Mozilla has fallen behind the curve in terms of speed, agility and support for modern standards, and Asa’s chest-beating comments seem to focus on what Mozilla did in the past (innovated RSS support in the Web browser).

    • Yes, I think Camen’s post was as much about Firefox as it was about RSS, and Firefox has had trouble making headway, particularly against Chrome (see my post earlier today about Firefox’s market share growth vs. Chrome)

      • I also agree this is as much about Firefox as RSS.

        There’s been discussion elsewhere that RSS is a specialist, hard to use tool for more technically sophisticated users, while Twitter is for everyman (or woman).

        Maybe. But Mozilla would be wise to cater for those tech savvy users — they are the people who decide which browsers others get to use. Abandoning RSS could see specialist users move back to IE or look elsewhere.

    • Exactly! I was just going to comment, “why does it matter anymore that Firefox makes it difficult? People use Chrome these days anyway.”

      I don’t have the privileged of having the fastest computer around and Firefox just makes life harder for me (even Thunderbird does sometimes) because it slows down my computer significantly. Not to mention, I live in Indonesia and you don’t want to know how slow the connection gets around here. And to add to that: the add-ons are kind of a hassle compared to Chrome’s extensions.

      Sadly, like Firefox, I haven’t been able to keep up. I don’t make a living as a designer, but I haven’t mastered the latest HTML. It’s either getting a bit too complicated or I’m just not aging very well.