∞ The purported death of RSS

Despite the apparent blogger-provoked death knell, RSS is not dead, dying, or doomed.

The argument goes that the layperson does not know what RSS means, how to use it to their advantage, and it does not have the lasting attractiveness to bring in a new audience. While there is certainly validity in this stance, it is flawed.

Specifically, the view that widespread understanding has anything to do with the health of RSS is flawed.

RSS is fundamentally a backbone technology for websites. It allows content to be aggregated and organized. It allows for the syndication and dispersion of content.

In my opinion, RSS, insofar as it is a backbone, is merely returning to its rightful place. It is becoming hidden from the end user.

RSS unofficially stands for “Really Simple Syndication,” and if held to this definition, I would argue that it is in perfect health, and that the “Really Simple” portion of the definition has fundamentally come to redefine and reinvigorate it.

Just as /Library is now hidden from an OS X Lion user, and just as the iOS platform is locked down and sandboxed, RSS is simply dropping off into the background. Content is being syndicated and aggregated just as before. Perhaps even more so than in the past. Virtually everyone with a Facebook, Google+, or Twitter account follows a news-providing entity. Those entities share content feeds. Those content feeds are generally derived from the XML and Atom feeds that comprise the RSS.

Similarly, apps like Flipboard and Pulse have been playing their part in disguising and hiding RSS from the end user.

In essence, RSS has become analogous to just about every other aspect of the modern computing industry, insofar as everything is becoming simplified and tucked away from the average user.

For the lack of a viable alternative, RSS is healthy, working, and active. While you might not see it in the same manner, content is still being syndicated, but presented in a different way.

RSS is not dead, but at the same time, journalists are correct, it is too alienating for the common user. So the owners of RSS feeds are presenting them in a more accessible, understandable manner.

That is not death, that is reinvigoration.

Matt Alexander is the owner and editor of ONE37.net, a writer, a technology enthusiast, and a contributing writer for The Loop.

  • I’m one of those people who “doesn’t get” rss. I don’t use it as far as I’m aware. I see the little “RSS” thing in the corner of websites, and when I click that, what I see is IMHO an uglified version of the same site. To me, RSS means “remove the style and show me the ugly version.”

    So my response to a post called “the purported death of RSS” is “so what, who cares, what is it even for?”

    Really though – what is it even for? What does RSS do for people who don’t know what it is?

    • A valid question, specially considering the topic of this article!

      RSS can be useful when you put it into a special app, where you gather all the different feeds you want to follow. Each site has its own feed, like The Loop or Streakmachine. Think of it as subscribing to a newspaper, only it’s the sites you want to read and that you get it in text-format.

      It’s a fairly fast way of getting all the new articles from your favorite places, collected in once place. Then you can just click on one article and either go to the site or decide that it wasn’t for you and move on. All without ever having to go to the site in question.

      Add to the mix that you can filter out things that you are sure you will not be interested in and it’s a pretty nifty little contraption!

      So in essence: • It’s a way to subscribe to your favorite sites • You can quickly and easily skim new articles • There is a lot of time to save if you use it

      • Thanks Robert! I guess that’s the key thing that I missed was that this requires a separate application to be useful, rather than something you do in the browser.

        • Nobby McNobson

          You can take advantage of RSS within your browser, for example by using Google Reader http://www.google.com/reader

        • Anonymous

          You can set up Mail or Safari in their respective preferences to be your RSS reader or you can get a standalone RSS reader such as NetNewsWire. Each time that you find a site that interest and you click on the RSS symbol it will add that site to your RSS reader of choice. The reader presents you with the headlines so that you can scan them for articles that may interest you. If you decide to read the article it will then go to web page and you will see it in full. A real time saver.

  • Anonymous

    I use Reeder on iPhone/iPad combined with about a dozen RSS feeds from various sites to amalgamate the news (or news-like) articles I’m interested in reading in a single place. Much like Instapaper, it allows me to see what I’m interested in a consolidated view so that I can choose to read, ignore, whatever with the content I am presented with.

    While there are those who argue that following the same publications via Twitter will allow you to obtain the same info, I find that Twitter contains too much miscellaneous noise from the others you follow and occasionally interesting articles will get overlooked or lost in the process.

    For example, if you follow several Mac news sites via RSS and use a decent feed reader you’ll always get your content even if you don’t sync for a few days because that content remains available regardless of how long a gap there is between syncing. You could go on vacation for 2 weeks, then return, sync, and see every article posted while you were away with no loss of content.

    Compare that to Twitter where, if your stream is too busy or you don’t check for a few days, a huge amount of content will simply be lost because the Twitter experience isn’t oriented around “old” updates and (depending on how many people you follow and how active they are) in many cases you can’t go more than 24 – 48 hours before older Tweets will simply vanish and never be seen. Try updating Twitter after a 2 week vacation and see how far back you can go before it simply fails to return any further content.

    I hope that RSS doesn’t die because I don’t really see streams like Twitter as a suitable replacement.

    • This is exactly why Google Reader is the hub of my online activity. RSS lets me aggregate content from hundreds of websites in one interface, but without the social noise. 

  • I am a huge fan of RSS feeds. I use them multiple times a day to read my favorite tech news sites, blogs, and web comics (I’m looking at you, The Oatmeal). I do use them in tandem with the full-fledged site (e.g., One37, engadget) if I want to view comments on articles, pictures, or other items.

  • My RSS reader is the headquarter of my internet-activities.

  • Anonymous

    Like others, I too am a big fan of RSS.  Today, I use Google Reader from Safari when at my Mac.  When on my iPhone or iPad, I use Byline, which stays nicely synchronized with Google Reader.

    I think RSS truly is infrastructure at this point.  It is like many other protocols that underly the more public facing tools of the Internet.   In the same way that most folks can’t tell you how power is routed from the power plant  to your home, users of the Internet should not have to know that RSS, SMTP, DHCP, and other low-level protocols riding on top of IP (a lower-level protocol) are all key components to getting information to the    person using a web browser or email program.