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The War On RSS (vambenepe.com)
256 points by mgunes on Apr 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 124 comments

This post feels mistitled, but that itself is an interesting sign. If there is a "war" on RSS (or, more precisely, on certain manifestations of RSS), where is the army? Where is the manifesto? Who has pounded the table and declared that RSS is our enemy and must die?

Has anyone?

My impression is that we have the opposite of a "war" here. These RSS features are dying of natural causes. Unless someone can point me to the conference, blog post, or secret meeting where an evangelist convinced Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Mozilla, et cetera to simultaneously kill this feature in tandem, I'll continue to suspect that they're doing so because they're all subject to the same market pressure: There's a lot of new, popular, paying features that need building, from Twitter and Facebook integration, to mobile apps, to mobile-friendly APIs, to responsive and touch-friendly design, and as these things get added to the backlog other things get pushed down. Code is expensive to maintain and if it doesn't carry its weight it gets cut, even if it's vaguely likeable and nifty.

You are treating the term "war" too literally. This is not about some secret conspiracy, but the lack of incentives (or maybe even existence of disincentives) to support open protocols in the era of walled gardens.

To refute your last point, the article explicitly mentions that that Twitter has functional RSS support, which was deliberately removed from the user interface and metadata, so it's not a matter of development or maintenance cost.

War implies opposition. If there is no opposition, but rather "lack of incentives," then I agree with mechanical_fish that war is inappropriate.

Think of it as passive opposition, i.e. failure to do something about a cause.

English is a big toolbox. We don't need to repurpose words for completely different definitions. The suitably dramatic terms you're looking for are demise and downfall.

"The demise of RSS"

"The downfall of RSS"

Or if you want to get superdramatic: "The silent acquiescence of RSS to an untimely demise"

I actually agree thats dramatic, but its easy to see what they meant. And no, not a downfall. A downfall does not convey the idea that measures were taken by other parties to actually bring down the entity in question. A downfall can be self-inflicted. So not war, but not downfall either. :)

Just because one can puzzle out meaning doesn't mean that a piece is well written. It only means the reader was sufficiently clever, or lucky enough to stumble on the meaning.

Describing passive opposition as war just makes no sense at all.

It’s not a war. Not even using extremely liberal (and stupid) definitions of war.

Our experience teaches us that to have a war you need organized sides, no one can afford a war on drugs or a war on terrorism if the opponents can metamorphize into pleasure or the political will to self-determination.

Mechanical fish is right, RSS is unattractive to people, that is the problem. People don't hate it, it isn't a war.

You're implying that the user interface and metadata of a site like twitter has no development or maintenance cost?

That's right, keeping the following header

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" href="...">

pointing to a URL that already exists and works just fine doesn't cost anything. If the primary reason had been maintenance cost, they would have removed the feature itself.

The way to remove a feature gracefully is to first stop promoting it in any way, sometimes up to and including making the docs more obscure, because it's rude to urge people to use a feature on Day N and then rip it away from them on Day N+1. Particularly if some of those people are your business partners.

The next step, in many cases, is to send out sorrow-filled notices to the feature's users saying, in essence, that you're end-of-lifing the feature as of date X. Though often the bad news is artfully disguised. (e.g. "Look at all the glorious new stuff that we're rolling out to replace that tired old feature that will now be deprecated and slated for removal.")

Only in step three do you just shut it off. You might even shut it off gradually, as when Google shut off their old design for Gmail, a process which is still going on and appears to be taking literally years.

How much time elapses between the three steps depends on the details.

Twitter, Facebook, Apple, and Google are not conspiring to kill RSS, but each company wants to lock users into their walled garden. RSS lets users "eat the cheese" without getting caught in a proprietary mousetrap.

I'll buy that, but not without a chuckle about the fact that, based on my limited research, you can use any sync-enabled mobile RSS client you want, so long as it's Google Reader or a client of Google Reader.

(Please, please refute me: Tell me a good iOS feed-reader that syncs my read status between my iPhone and iPad, but doesn't require me to use Google Reader.)

Google may not technically own RSS, just as they don't technically own Android, but they own Google Reader and Feedburner. Maybe that's not a mousetrap, strictly speaking. But I still feel stuck.

> (Please, please refute me: Tell me a good iOS feed-reader that syncs my read status between my iPhone and iPad, but doesn't require me to use Google Reader.)

Have you tried Newsblur (http://www.newsblur.com/) - has a great web app and complementary iPhone app. Samuel Clay (the developer) is often on HN too, although his username escapes me right now.

It's clearly no conspiracy theory 'war' so to speak, I think that term was used simply to convey that RSS is dying.

On an individual level, Google Reader used to be like crack for me, I couldn't get away from it. Used it every day. Followed hundereds of websites. Then the tore the social out of it and clunklily put it into G+, which blows (no reader user liked this). Now I almost never use google reader. It's almost like they were trying to push people away from it. But that's just my two cents.

Was the social aspect of Google Reader that good? I never used the social features; I just used RSS for its express purpose, to avoid having to click fifty bookmarks every day.

I had several friends with whom I shared a dozen or so links each day in Google Reader. When Google dropped the sharing feature in Reader, I basically stopped sharing with them and haven't found a replacement. Google+ definitely was not a viable alternative. It was my mistake in relying on Google, in retrospect.

Some "sharebros" began to write a Google Reader clone, tapping into the "We are the 1000+" frustration:


But progress has fizzled to nothing:


The social sharing was very valuable for content junkies, b/c the only people who shared stuff on reader were other folks who were heavy users of RSS. Comparing signal to noise from that community vs. my twitter feed is a total joke. When Google shut it down, people in my RSS sharing circle were really upset. It was sad.

Here's an old comment of mine with regards to google readers social aspect (and when they made the changed to G+):

"I'm also usually very open to change and what have you, but I despise the new reader. Exactly because I like to be in reader, and see what my friends posted from reader. I don't want it mixed with the rest of my social life, I don't want it mixed with FB like status updates, I just want to see what people are sharing in Reader. It's like I had my own "community" in reader, a small but special subset of people really in the "know". Yeahyeah, that's a circle, I know, but I went to reader to read what they shared, then I read my own, and shared. The 'dialog' was more circular, if that makes any sense. That, and my Reader slants heavily on the 'images' and artsy side of things, it was almost like a micro tumblr that only friends saw, but unlike tumblr, it's not recycled stuff, we are all pulling from different places, I followed a guy from finance, a dude that loved astronomy, and chick in advertising, a guy in tech, a girl into silly comics, and it was all right there, im my reader. It was perfect."

I don't know that "that good" is the metric against which people are measuring the old Google Reader. I think a more accurate metric would be "that adequate" or "that appropriate". As others replying to this have stated, the old social functionality of Google Reader dovetailed nicely into the RSS aggregator functionality, where you could build a small close-knit group of people who--while having their own areas of expertise--took care in paring down their own individual firehoses to well curated streams of interesting content. That's it: no more, no less. When Google trashed that feature set to shoehorn the 10 pound G+ monster into that 5 pound bag, it was over.

> If there is a "war" on RSS... Where is the manifesto?

Here: http://techcrunch.com/2009/05/05/rest-in-peace-rss/

Jon Stewart had a hilarious sketch earlier this week on this increasing tendency to throw around the term so lightly:


around 7:00.

There's a war on non-linkbait blog post titles.

I think the biggest problem with RSS is that you divorce the content from the context. Both from the publisher's standpoint, when their ads aren't being served or they decide to truncate their RSS feed so they can get ad revenue back from click-through, and from the reader's standpoint, where a common lamentation in moving to RSS is that you no longer get to read the original site regularly.

I solved the "Original site" problem by building the original site into NewsBlur -- http://www.newsblur.com.

The other big issue with RSS is that there are too many stories with a low signal-to-noise ratio. I built in filtering and highlighting into NewsBlur to address that concern. And it's a completely separate backend from Google Reader.

And now the common refrain is that people use social channels (Twitter/FB/Tumblr) to find links and news. So I just built that into NewsBlur with shared stories. You can sign up to be a part of the private beta at http://dev.newsblur.com. I'll send out invites to anybody who signs up.

Consuming the web through RSS can be problematic for both publishers and readers. I'm addressing the big three issues - context, relevancy, and surfacing - with a strong commitment to both readers and publishers. Let me know what else you would expect to see in your ideal reading setup, and chances are, RSS offers the foundation to build it.

I switched over to NewsBlur from Google Reader in December (after there was a post about it on HN) and haven't looked back. I even emailed the creator once with an issue I was having and received a prompt and helpful response. Try that with Google Reader!

Whoaaaaa, this is some hot hot hot JS. Thanks for open-sourcing this. I do a similar thing with http://somaseek.com/ (same basic concept only it's only reading XML from SomaFM ), and reddit is also open-source with a live "reference" implementation :)

I hope Google picks something like this up (or hey, just /hires you/ if you're into that) and re-does Reader for 2012 :)

I hope not. Samuel found a perfect niche market for a bootstrapped start-up, and acquisition by a big company would probably mean the end of NewsBlur. If you really like it, make sure to buy a subscription.

"Context"? Don't you mean "design"? I regard the fact that I don't have to view most blogs in their original look one of the best features of RSS, saves me from activating Readability all the time.

There's a Feed view, which is what you're referring to, as well as an Original view. There is also a Story view, which shows you the click-through of the story, which is convenient for some feeds, like Hacker News.

The majority of sites that I personally subscribe to are individual writers. I want to read their writing in the exact format that they intended it to be read. Daring Fireball comes to mind.

I'm aware of the different NewsBlur features, I'm not saying that I don't like the software (if only it didn't have such a huge stack needed to run it…). And it's great that I can choose. I just wanted to state where I stand in the content vs. presentation issue. Even most a-list bloggers often have pretty unreadable, if pretty, layouts. I'd include DF there, by the way…

I'm also not quite sure about the ad argument, i.e that you're eliminating the revenue of bloggers. The feeds themselves can contain ads, there's the compromise of abstracted posts in feeds, and then there's the distinct possibility that users who are proficient enough to use RSS also have something like AdBlock installed. Personally, I see more ads in feeds than on actual sites, due to dedicated feed readers not blocking ads, and the relative low level of annoyance doesn't prompt me to use a filtering proxy for that - never mind that I could on mobile devices…

One thing that I dislike about reading in RSS readers is that it's getting somewhat more common to include interactive things in blog posts, and I'd like to see those (and encourage that trend). Things like having a running example of a code snippet, or interactive statistics/data-viz stuff. Sometimes JS/canvas/SVG stuff works in Google Reader, but often it's broken, and non-browser-based readers usually don't even try.

Yes, that is a pretty hard problem, i.e. how do you distinguish between JavaScript highlighting a source snippet and doing something that messes up your presentation? In the end, I don't think this would be worth the effort. Keep the feed reader simple enough, the real post is usually just a keypress away. My usage pattern in Google Reader is just pressing "v" to open a tab with that post for later referral (it's easy enough to modify firefox or chrome to do that in the background).

Of course, if you have total control over your RSS generation and feel particularly perfectionist, you could always have some minimalistic features present in your feed, probably similar to your print CSS version. Bold and italic for syntax highlighting, for example.

This is the first I'm hearing of Newsblur. I've contemplated building something similar to try and tackle some of the issues I raised in my comment in this thread. Looks like you're well on your way. I hope you stick with it! I'd really like to more out of RSS.

Well, it's also entirely open-source, from the front-end to the distributed feed fetchers on the backend, as well as the iOS app: http://github.com/samuelclay

Your "About NewsBlur" page has nice Who/How/Why sections, but I’m still not sure What NewsBlur is. I guess it is a feed reader and it looks nice, but what makes it different from the one I already have?

Interesting. These are the exact issues that I had. So I eagerly clicked over to your site. I clicked on a few things, and after 2 minutes I left. For good. Why?

No taste. Very little to no taste.

While you do exactly what I need, these are incredibly complicated times. And I want to be sure that you will solve my issues without introducing complicated buttons and concepts I have to learn first. Plus Icons that hurt my eyes. But that's exactly what you provided.

Would be great if you looked into this matter. Cause as of right now, 3 minutes after my visit, I'm still looking for a solution.

You only spent 2 minutes learning about a product that has many moving parts. I spend a lot of time working on the flow and design of NewsBlur. I think if you give it it's proper due, you'll find yourself astounded by all the attention to detail and features that you won't find in any other feed reader. It's pretty clear that NewsBlur goes well above and beyond.

I'll second this after playing around just a tiny bit today. I wanted to train it that I really like the "Four Short Links" in O'Reilly Radar's feed. The problem is that the title looks like this: "Four Short Links: April 19, 2012".

Turns out, I can highlight the text that I "like" in the title of an article and "like" that (or "dislike it"). So I just highlighted the "Four Short Links" part and liked that. Bingo. Done. That is the kind of attention to detail and control that I want to have in a feed reader (assuming it can actually use all that data I'm going to give it, time will tell there).

Like they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Also, the complicated things that one sees at first sight are a sign that probably all features, including the ones that I didn't see, are complicated. Which is not what I'm looking for.

Why is it that NewsBlur premium subscribers have to find out about a private beta on HN?

That does not make me happy.

The new social features will. I've been posting about the beta on Twitter, and because the beta is still buggy as sin, I wanted only less invested users (like on a random tread) and highly invested users (twitter followers) to be the catalyst for fixing bugs. I'm planning to email all premiums early next week.

But no worries, the betas been live for only a few days. Right now, you're only missing broken unread counts and broken Facebook connect. Be glad you're coming in a bit late.

This is the first I'm hearing of Newsblur. I've contemplated building something similar to try and tackle some of the issues I raised in my comment in this thread. Looks like you're well on your way.

I think the demise of RSS represents a failure of its promoters. They painted it as a service, when it should have been treated as a backend technology.

People want to know when certain websites they care about have new stuff. The fact that RSS can be used to achieve that is, and should have been treated as, completely irrelevant. Nobody except geeks like me care if they're transmitted through RSS, PubSubBubHub or carrier pigeons.

Likewise, I don' think most people care that the website has a "feed" and they need to get a "feeds reader" to be informed.

I think Firefox had the greatest opportunity to make it happen and they blew it. RSS should have been integrated with the bookmarks system, and I don't mean those awful "dynamic bookmarks" or whatever they were called.

When some page was bookmarked, the browser should save its RSS feed URL alongside (hidden!) and use it to alert people to updates to their sites, and provide an one-click way to open the new post(s) in a new tab (and an easy way to disable notifications from that site, certainly).

This would've made RSS useful for much more people and provide a great incentive for websites to provide good feeds. Unfortunately, it remained a geek tool, and so it'll die as such.

This is at least equally interesting and insightful as the original article if not more so.

Steve Jobs would never have promoted RSS. He would, though, create user experiences based on it. Which really jars my reality to even say it, but your comments/observations and my own experiences (I use RSS exclusively on my phone as an offline info gatherer mostly used when I'm on subways out of Internet range) that 1) RSS is really cool and 2) there are no compelling end-user RSS-based tools.


Well yeah. My ideal tech has all the implementation details hidden during use and provides a nice little button to tell me how features are implemented if I choose to know.

Hackers probably miss this because they feel the implementation details are a core part of the experience. A system with no implementation details readily available in some form will have a hard time gaining support from the type of nerdy dudes who like to change the world from their garage without significant secondary draws.

I agree re the mindset of hackers: finding some neat new application and knowing exactly what you want to do with it, only to have its mechanics and implementation details utterly obfuscated so that you can only do what the designers intended is an incredibly frustrating experience.

The current industry-wide focus on simplified UI and managed UX that has the effect of constraining users into presumptive usage patterns is quite obnoxious to hackers and power-users who want to be in control of their own experience.

That's a really good observation: that hackers feel the implementation details are core to the experience.

I do feel that implementation details matter. But they need not be forefront in the experience itself. And confusing the technology with the experience is a classic blunder (cue: land war in Asia).

I use RSS readers almost exclusively to consume content and would miss RSS if nothing else replaced it. I'm an information junkie and RSS readers have made it far easier for me to keep up with the torrent of information out there. That said, I can't escape the feeling that the concept of websites having feeds in a standard format is starting to wane. I also think google reader has sucked a lot of oxygen out of the RSS space. Every mobile or desktop reader pretty much has to sync with google reader which influences their design accordingly. While there are lots of attempts to make things look pretty, there's not a whole lot of major innovation in the RSS reader space. That's not to mention the fact that as far as I know, the reader API is unofficial so it could go bye, bye any time.

All that being said, RSS alone is not exactly the pinnacle of information delivery. What I really want is a better way to identify interesting and informative information and filter out all the junk. This is a very, very hard problem to solve in an automated way. Things like Flipboard are trying to tackle this, but I haven't been able to embrace them. I also don't want to rely on my social network, because I'm different from my network. I have my own interests and priorities (that change over time).

What I want is a feed of information that is what google is to search. Google nearly always shows me exactly what I'm looking for in the top hits. I want something that gives me the most important, useful, and interesting information in a prioritized list all the time. The only thing I've seen get close to this is Fever (http://feedafever.com/). That's a good start, but isn't quite there.

Not to overly self-promote, but you might want to give us a try: http://zite.com . I've personally spent years on the personalization technology behind it, so I'd love to hear what you think.

It's a real pity most (all?) services like this require the user to tell the service what their interests are.

This kind of relationship, where the user trades information about him- or herself for service is sadly all too common on today's internet, and amounts to voluntary participation in a vast spyware network, where you are ever more effectively watched and tracked no matter what you do.

Technologically, it should be quite feasible to do all the RSS feed gathering and filtering for this sort of service on the client's machine, using software installed locally on the user's machine rather than on the service's servers.

Another possibility is to do the processing on the service's servers, but to try to build in some sort of privacy and anonymity guarantees in to the service itself. This is inherently more problematic, since it would really require some sort of verification of those guarantees by a neutral, trusted third-party before it could be completely trusted. But it would still be a big step forward over what we have now.

Good luck with your business, but I'm not going to use it until and unless I can feel secure that I'm not giving you any information about myself, my tastes or my preferences by using it.

Prioritisation of information is a hard problem to solve.

And that's why I think Facebook is doing so well - it takes this problem and uses social means to solve it. You probably need the information most of your friends needed. And if you "like" some of what your friend post a lot, you will probably like what he posts next.

That's why RSS is dead and Facebook is thriving. People don't want linear flow of all possible information, especially today with too much information. You need to take the important stuff out - that's why newspapers have frontpages, that's what google news is doing, that's what slashdot/digg/reddit/hacker news is doing. Facebook do it socially.

Is it? There are a quite a few high-quality blogs I read (via RSS feeds, of course), but I usually discover them via aggregators such as HN, Reddit, Metafilter, etc.

I've found Facebook and Twitter to be a terrible way to identify high-quality content sources: they ironically lack the social-filter function. It's the cultural norms of a community like HN, combined with its also socially-mediated ranking mechanism, that enable aggregators to function so well as content filters. Facebook and Twitter are disjointed in that no one is taking to precisely the same group of people, and there's no evaluative mechanism at all: if someone you follow posts it, it shows up on your front page. Linear flow of all information is exactly what you get.

Facebook is excellent as a glorified contact list, but I still can't found a purpose for Twitter in my life. Reddit is the real winner: the subreddits are coherent communities, and they can be viewed and subscribed to independently of each other, so you're joining a community of communities, each with its own content-filtering mechanism. Of course, Reddit is essentially a modern version of USENET.

Thanks for the suggestion, I liked the philosophy behind Fever so much, I've just bought it (despite the crazy requirements). Might get me hooked on RSS again, who knows.

I think it's safe to say RSS cooked into browsers had its chance and was thoroughly rejected. (And I say that as someone who loves RSS.)

What more could browser makers have done to encourage RSS? Technophiles love it, but the mass market rejected it.

For all intents and purposes, Twitter is a simpler, more intuitive form of RSS for the layperson.

As long as tools like Google Reader exist for those of us who do use RSS, I'm not worried. And if Google kills Reader, it will probably usher in a new renaissance of feed readers that are currently non-existent because of Google's ads-funded largesse.

RSS is now too important to too many people to just die.

> What more could browser makers have done to encourage RSS? Technophiles love it, but the mass market rejected it.

I mostly agree, but...

Browsers prominently featured RSS for many years, and the world at large ignored it. Heck, I'm one of those technophiles and I ignored it in the browser. Why? Because RSS should have been about convenience, but the browser implementations did not seem intuitive, and more importantly did not make it clear how it actually worked. All the techies I know who regularly consume content through RSS use a separate reader, and I suggest that's because browser RSS did not actually offer anything compelling (or even useful at all). I could be totally wrong about how useful browser RSS was, but then the problem is that even a moderately competent techie didn't see it and the buck still stops at the browser.

Ditto for finding the browser implementations useless. I did use Thunderbird for years, though.

The irony is that I'm now using GoogleReader in a browser on my smartphone (Android) to read RSS feeds. I still have some feeds into my Thunderbird configuration, but mostly ignore them there.

I tried the Google RSS feed reader app (Android) and didn't like it. I have not tried other RSS apps, the web-based GoogleReader meets my needs (I have a personal policy to minimize the number of install apps).

My personal opinion as somebody who uses RSS quite a lot is that it's never been that useful in the browser - or at least as I saw it implemented. Because I still have to actively "go" somewhere to see the feeds, which is not quite the point for me.

I will be really bummed, though, to see it removed from Mail.app. The Mail client has been the perfect place for me personally because I use RSS as a way to receive notifications. I use it for everything from following twitter search feeds, to monitoring eBay auctions to our own internal error-logging system.

I think RSS suffers from lack of awareness to the average person. I've showed it to a number of people and many of them have gone on to become power RSS users. My wife uses it to monitor knitting sites and to watch for search terms to bring up results on craigslist. It's really fantastic when you know how to use it. But they had no idea what it was or how to use it before I mentioned it.

The article specifically mentions services dropping support for the RSS format in favor of proprietary apis. This is bad. RSS/Atom might be falling out of favor due to XML's own decline of popularity but it needs to be replaced by something else, not per-service programming.

I think it's a mistake to attribute RSS's decline to any sort of technical issue like "XML's decline". There's nothing technical about it, it is strictly social. RSS is a way to move content out of the walled garden, and they want you in their walled garden. That's it. That's the whole story. They are rejecting the very philosophical underpinnings of openness that were the reason for the creation of RSS in the first place.

You are right that the decline is social, but it's not because "they" want anything. RSS was never a technology that managed to catch on outside the uber-geek crowd. I use "uber-geek" intentionally because it seems to me that most tech-savvy people I know don't use feed readers (in their browsers or otherwise).

I think you're conflating 2 things: RSS as format read by people and RSS as a format read by machine. Don't let the lack of popularity of the former sway your opinion of the latter.

Having to write custom code for each service you're interested in sucks compared to adding some RSS endpoints into an array.

How does Firefox removing RSS support fit in that justification? As far as I know, they don't have a walled garden.

Personally, I think RSS died of natural causes; it was never a threat to any walled gardens.

That's the exception that has some justification, I'm referring to the services that are no longer generating RSS that used to.

Since it's been available, I've preferred Netvibes for RSS: there are already lots of great options outside Google Reader.

Right now I have 234 feeds in my Google Reader. Many of them are updated irregularly, often weeks or months apart. But when they do update, I don't want to miss it.

If RSS is killed, what will replace it? Not for the case of Twitter or TechCrunch, where there will always be new content when you visit and it doesn't matter if you miss some, but for rare but important postings.

Me, too. And, crucially, Google Reader supports pubsubhubbub, so you get near realtime, pushed updates of arbitrary payloads. The only technology that offers this in a practical form is rss/atom.

I feel like the problem with RSS was mainly a branding issue. First of all... acronyms don't sell. No non-expert user is ever going to click an orange icon with a wi-fi logo that says "RSS" or "XML". MAYBE they'd click a button that says "Subscribe". Individual browsers and implementations tried to brand them as "Live Bookmarks" or similar, but there wasn't much unity around it.

RSS is of course unbelievably useful, and people who understood that the content of a site was being published side by side in a human readable but totally nonstandard format (HTML) and a machine readable and much more standard format (RSS,ATOM,etc.) instantly grabbed some kind of reader and subscribed to anything they were interested in.

I tried to preach the gospel of feeds. I tried to get people to subscribe to MY blogs. Even most of my medium-technical friends said, "Yeah, that whole reader thing sounds cool, I've been meaning to set that up." Non-technical people simply subscribed to things via email.

If somehow email could have organized itself more naturally into push (email) and pull (feeds) buckets, then it could have perhaps happened naturally, but confusing standards, implementations, and no real great way to explain the benefits to new users is what killed RSS (and XML feeds in general)... there was no war.

I'm not sure if discoverability is as important as it used to be for RSS. Nowadays you can simply input the URL of the site into your RSS reader and it'll find the feed.

When it comes to Facebook and Twitter, my guess is that RSS doesn't accomplish what those services are made for. As they have evolved, the reverse chronological posting has become less important.

Plus, if you were Twitter, how would you want people to consume those tweets? Would you rather get them immediately or several minutes later in a format that has no context in the world of Twitter?

With that being said, I think RSS still plays a role in consolidating and consuming news in a central location. But it should be up to the site designers/developers to offer an easy way to "subscribe" to that site (via email or RSS).

In the case of Firefox, their user study indicated that very few people used it (https://heatmap.mozillalabs.com/)

I think it's easy to come to a false conclusion through studies like this.

Unlike BACK I click an RSS icon once and subscribe in another application—and only if I already like the site/news/feed. So for the users like me that just click the button once and awhile to subscribe to a feed in another piece of software, like Vienna or Mail, we appear as a false low.

I use Chrome, so that doesn't help Firefox in my case. But Chrome doesn't show RSS links either. I wish they still offered the option.

There are official extension for Chrome to display this icon (see https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/nlbjncdgjeocebhnmk...).

As long as there are extensions I am ok with removing this icon from browser itself.

The Chrome extension is sort of broken - if I click the address-bar RSS icon, it opens the feed in a nice stylesheet, but I can't see the URL. This is a problem for sites that put their feeds in meta tags, but don't have an RSS link on their front page - I end up having to view source to copy out the RSS link.

Right, but only 3% of users ever clicked the button. How frequently they clicked it isn't what the OP was talking about.

I'm your average HN reader and so, I think, somewhat above average in technical matters and the few times I tried using RSS in Firefox it felt awkward and I wasn't quite sure whether I was doing something wrong.

The last couple of years I mostly read RSS on my iPad / iPhone or using Google Reader (which is okay'ish).

You are really using that awkward mobile interface of Google Reader? Why wouldn't you use an app like Reeder that is synced with your Google Reader account and has all your RSS needs covered.

For me following my Google Reader subscriptions via Reeder is a daily habit. I guess I use it more often than Safari on my iPad.

That said I would absolutely miss RSS if it was gone.

No, I generally follow RSS on my iPad/iPhone using an app (Byline in my case) and only use Google Reader when I'm on a PC.

Shame that they messed up the Google Reader UI when they rolled out G+. Before that, consuming RSS was part of my morning routine. Now, the crappy web UI combined with extremely slow Android app have pushed me over to Pulse (ttp://www.pulse.me/), which is also RSS but with a much more limited collection of feeds to follow.

I read blogs and aggregators only through RSS, and I've never once used the built-in RSS featurs of Firefox. Firefox's implementation is awful - I use Thunderbird and read feeds via the same interface as my email.

Is there an alternative technology that is replacing RSS?

Is there any evidence that blogs are dropping RSS? I think one of RSS's major applications was for blogs to distribute their content. The examples given in this article, such as Twitter and Facebook are both apps that also have APIs available, so RSS in those cases are kind of redundant.

One could also make the argument that RSS is bad for the bottom line, as selling advertising, and generating revenue off of it is far more difficult than traditional websites.

The other big question is whether or not users are still using aggregators. If aggregator use is down, then that could suggest the decline of RSS or RSS like technology.

Finally, RSS probably still has a future in podcasting.

> Twitter and Facebook are both apps that also have APIs available

I can't just import their API into an RSS reader with a single click.

On the other hand: I probably could, if I spent a few days reading up the documentation, writing up an app, testing it, and then deploying and hosting it, resulting in an RSS feed that (e.g.) Google Reader could process.

My fiance? No way.

On the gripping hand, my fiance doesn't care about RSS and doesn't use it. I'd argue that most twitter users probably don't, either. So there doesn't seem to be much loss.

It may be difficult for you or others to create an RSS feed from an API, but a service like Flipboard could do it. I think less technically inclined people are more likely to use something like Flipboard over an RSS reader anyway, it's less complicated.

And services like Flipboard benefit having access restricted to an API, as it limits its availability, which helps them monetize off of it.

As I have come to reply on Flipboard more and more over the last 18+ months, my Google Reader / RSS usage has dropped quite a bit. Flipboard is a great Google Reader and general RSS client, but I find the Twitter streams to be much more valuable.

For example, I follow the BikeEXIF blog (http://www.bikeexif.com/) via his Twitter feed on Flipboard. This feed includes all of the blog posts, plus links to other 3rd party content, commentary, and so on. This is much more interesting than a pure RSS feed.

RSS may not be as useful to real humans, but I do think it's tremendously important and very much alive as a service to service standard. I wrote the RSS ingestion system for Flipboard. When reading the BikeEXIF blog on Fliboard via the @bikeEXIF Twitter stream, the content of each article is fetched from the blog's RSS feed.

What I don't understand is why anyone would expect to follow their friends via RSS (twitter/facebook)? That stream is much much too fast for what RSS is meant to achieve ... semantically speaking.

I view RSS as a great way to follow important-ish things like people's personal blogs and tech blogs and so on. Large pieces of content, everything bigger than, say, 400 words should be in RSS.

Whereas twitter and facebook are for conversation. It's where people post silly things that nobody really cares about. Using those streams to get actual news? Yeah, doesn't quite work ... following just 1031 people on twitter means there are 5 new posts every time I refresh.

That is not an environment where I'd expect to discover big chunks of info. And it's also not something I would want mixed up with the slow moving big content stuff.

If RSS didn't take off, it cannot be ascribed to malice from browser makers: even Microsoft at one point backed it right into Windows, they still support it in IE9, there is a component everyone can access that will deal with scheduled retrieval for you, so you could write an awesome windows-based feedreader tomorrow. Mozilla gave it a chance, half-heartedly (their implementation was terrible). Google didn't push it into Chrome, but they built the de-facto "Definitive Feed Aggregator" and supported it widely. Even standard-hating Apple built it into iTunes.

The truth is that RSS was a cool technology searching for a reason to exist. It managed to find it on occasions (podcasting is still alive, twitter basically used RSS as the "first draft" for their service, etc) but not in the big way most geeks thought it would. Commercial and user interests did not align with a vision of complete openness where standardized feeds get pushed from machine to machine, moving free and public content everywhere. Also, most services found the format to be a straight-jacket, and once you start adding custom namespaces, you might as well just use your own format. It fit well only for periodically-updated news/blog sites, which is what it was built for. And its worst sin is that it's fundamentally a one-way technology, a broadcasting tool, not a bi-directional tool. Social tools can be built on top of it, but at that point it becomes just another messaging format, and not particularly efficient either.

RSS will survive in some form (like RDF, remember that?) but will never gain widespread popularity, unless it's somehow reinvented in a way that will align with the interests of big commercial players and/or large number of users -- something we failed to do in the last 10+ years.

I now subscribe to most blogs on Twitter, and RSS is still part of that, its just that it is:

blogs -> rss -> rss2twitter gateway -> twitter -> me

So it has become a backend technology, and RSS has been given a better marketing term - 'following' (or 'subscribing'). It just isn't being directly consumed by users any more, which is why you don't need it as an icon in apps, but RSS is definitely still being consumed by other apps.

I found that the problem with most newsreaders wasn't the technology or terminology, but that they presented news items in an email view - ie. every item needs to be actioned, whereas the answer was a stream where you scan and interesting items were actions. The other problem was discovery. Nobody really worked out how to recommend other sources or feeds from within the reader applications.

Twitter kinda accidentally nailed both of those issues.

I don't like following websites or institutions on Twitter. I use RSS/Atom for (pull) news and Twitter for people.

- it solved a problem that 99.999% of the online public either doesn’t have, doesn’t know they have, or doesn’t care that they have.

- a lot of energy was poured into the absolutely stupid who gets credit for what, who did what to whom, who linked what where, who’s the real napster wars of 2002-2005.

- RSS and Atom are frozen relics of the post web 1.0 pre web 2.0 era. Support for anything other than html or text is a grab bag of works in this reader, doesn't work in that reader, is silently and completely removed by this other reader.

- it's in no one's best interests (financially, spiritually, professionally) for RSS to “succeed”. It had many fathers, all of whom moved on to other things, even 410'ing their online selves.

- it's difficult to monetize RSS. Ads may or may not work, you have to resort to gimmicks and most savvy users (who are likely a majority of the people reading your feed in the first place) are blocking ads, so there.

- it's difficult to prove the value of RSS to the publisher: how many people read this item? Dunno. You can't trust the number of unique user agents pulling the feed, because more likely than not they're mostly spam bots looking for content to republish. You could choose to trust the feedburner statistics, if you're using FB.

- RSS feeds can't be styled in any useable, uniform way. To many people this is a benefit of RSS, but it means that inline images that work great in the original article end up out of context. Any attempt to use CSS styling to set off differences in an article are mostly lost. There are some work arounds but mostly manual hacks.

The public has moved on. It sucks. RSS feeds will continue to be available for years, if not decades because they’re built into the publishing plumbing of many systems. There were gopher servers running well into the late 1990s in various places, much to the surprise at times of security administrators.

When faced with a public user base that goes to google.com and then types in the web site they want in the search box, we responded with RSS/Atom. It is a much better way of reviewing and consuming a lot of information, but the user experience sucks, and it’s in no one’s interests to fix that.

Find a way to profit, stunningly, from RSS and it’ll take off again. Continue to confine it to the techno–geek ghetto and that’s where it will remain.


Maybe I'm being naive here: Where is the alternative to RSS? I live in a small happy world (I use feeds heavily with gwene.org and Emacs Gnus as my reader and I like the experience). How am I (or anyone else) supposed to consume content from blogs? I cannot a believe a technology would simply die without there being something better. Am I living under a rock and just haven't seen the RSS-killer?

Social protocols are replacing RSS. In my view, Twitter and Facebook are better versions of RSS. First, they reach many more people. It’s easier to “follow” something than to subscribe to an RSS feed (has a bit of a medical ring to it, no?).

Second, these social streams provide an additional social filter to the news, something that RSS news never did. These social filters also provide a layer to comment, share and discuss, which is another feature altogether missing in RSS.

Lastly, social streams avoid the challenge most RSS readers faced: the inbox with 1000+ items to read and no way to sift through them. Social streams create a time value decay function for this data. Facebook’s EdgeRank uses a combination of different signals to ensure relevancy so when users login the feed is only timely, relevant content, not an inbox of every status update and share. Twitter uses time to reduce the number of items in the feed.


The social filters of sites like Twitter and Facebook are very deficient compared to the social filters of genuinely social aggregators such as HN and Reddit. The "genuinely social" bit there is indeed a dig against Twitter and Facebook - Twitter, because it's terse and disorganized, and Facebook because it's just a web-based interface to 'offline' social relationships rather than a community in its own right.

And I follow HN via RSS.

I don't know about any other rss users, but the content I post in my social circles originates from google reader by way of some rss feed about 95% of the time.

On the subject of Apple removing RSS from Mail, I don't see that as an issue with RSS. Rather, it's removing from Mail something that shouldn't have been there in the first place. I'm pretty much hooked on Reeder, with Google Reader as the backend for most of it.

RSS and IMAP don't have much in common, but I think the applications overlap a lot.

Many people subscribe to newsletters for exactly the same reason other people use RSS.

I also did it the other way around, and I dearly miss it on 10.8: I subscribed to RSS for stuff that other people use email notifications for. Mostly blog post comments and AppWorld reviews, both of which are often support requests in disguise. Adding the StackOverflow search query for a library I wrote was also awesome. Extremely low traffic & always better to read within a day.

> but I think the applications overlap a lot.

No doubt. But I feel that I'm in a different mindset when I'm looking to read and looking to deal with email. It just reminds me of where iTunes has taken us, from being a music player to become a media and DRM management system. I was happy that didn't try and shove the Mac App Store in there as well.

I believe that, based on my own non-scientific observation, most non-technical people don't really know what RSS is or what it is used for.

I think that YACG, AutoBlogs, and so forth have also made website owners question the value of publishing RSS feeds as well.

Personally though, as someone who has launched several niche blogs over the years I find publishing an RSS feed to most of the big feed directories to be the best way to get a ton of backlinks to a new sit in a very short amount of time.

Of course large established sites have no need of this "benefit" so they largely view RSS as brand-dilution factor, not a brand-promotion factor.

Facebook still has RSS feeds for pages but looks like the link got hidden when the pages got switched over to the new timeline layout. e.g. https://www.facebook.com/feeds/page.php?id=305891199451158&#...

Something has never been right about rss and I can't put my finger on exactly what.

I always found the idea compelling. I've tried using readers. Taken time to put in my feeds, but it never really became part of my routine. When I've been away loggin in feels like a chore. Frequently updated feeds drowned out the others. There hvae never been conventions that work around it either. What happens when an entry is updated, for example. What happens when you click the rss icon. etc etc.

I really wanted rss (and I still use it) but it was never right.

>Frequently updated feeds drowned out the others.

You should give a try to http://www.newsblur.com/ It comes with an intelligence trainer that will present the new entries based on your ratings of previous entries.

It also have very simple keyboard shortcuts to view the entry on the original site without leaving the window at all.

FriendFeed put a nice UI on it. The site is still running, although not actively maintained.

RSS also doesn't work very well in pure client-side development, whereas the same data structure in JSON is easy in pretty much any context.

Say, for example, I want to show a list of items from a 3rd party in a sidebar on my site. With a few lines of jQuery or other similar lib, I can do that no problem.

Maybe RSS, just like XML-RPC which was still much better than SOAP but has fallen by the wayside in favour of REST + JSON, can be supplanted in the same way.

It's not in the interest of companies like Twitter to push out the information in machine readable format without charging for it. Most of the business models for these companies revolve around making money on the information they have (or advertising).

For blogs that are seeking to make money out of advertising, it is difficult to justify why they should send out the content out as RSS feed. If you send full text, then user does not come to the site. If you send excerpts then users are not happy.

One thing to try out could be push full fledged web pages inside the RSS feeds. Instead of just getting the text, I would get images, layout and advertisements as well (but of course still just the content, not the "chrome"). Reading this kind of blog entry on my "RSS" reader would be more like looking at the actual web site of the blog. Consuming large amounts of web sites this way would be faster than visiting them one-by-one with the browser. Publishers benefit could be that users would browse through more of their content (on web I usually pick few articles to read, with this I would probably cursory browse through most of content (and get exposure to the related ads).

This "RSS is dead" stuff is really getting old. I think we can safely say RSS is dead if Google ever decides to kill Google Reader.

My tech blog at https://grepular.com/blog/ has about 1100 feed subscribers. About 1000 of them are Google Reader users. I'd be really interested to see what would happen if Google dropped the Reader service. I wonder how many of those people would resubscribe from elsewhere.

Nice feature of GReader is that it uses browser native engine with all user mods - adblock, flashblock, greasemonkey, stylish etc. Stand-alones that I've used are mostly Trident (IE engine) so despite their great features they are also annoying.

So for your question - it will take lots of effort to relocate RSS reader and large portion of user base will be lost in transition.

The scary thing is how Reader seems to have been so suceessful that it has become almost the de facto RSS reader. After Bloglines went offline it has become the only usable web-based mainstream feed reader. Reeder, the best feed reader on the desktop, even relies on Reader for the feeds. If Google decides to kill it or -- God forbid -- integrate it into G+, then RSS maybe threatened. I'm hoping some new player will show to disrupt RSS, because it's needed to fix Google's virtual monopoly.

OpenID, FTP, and email are all apparently dead, too. I guess I'll have to add RSS to the list of 'dead' technologies that I use and enjoy every day.

Seriously, though, are these "foo is broken/dead" stories being pushed by people who want to monetize 'improved' versions?

Funny, we just started working on a better RSS reader: http://readnewswire.com/

Just signed up, but I probably won't use it until I can import my feeds from my current reader (NetVibes). There's around 100 of them, there's no way I'm doing that manually.

Also needs grouping. Again, there's a hundred of them, I need hierarchy.

Thanks for signing up. You are correct about importing and grouping. Both things that we aim to take care of soon.

I'm going to assume you know about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OPML

Relevant to my interests, "Hacker News Overload" publishes RSS feeds of HN articles at various score thresholds (20, 50, 100, 150):


So if folks aren't using RSS anymore, what are they using? Surely, they aren't manually browsing websites. I typically follow twitter feeds for updates but what's the standard RSS replacement for the average user?

RSS is alive and well in iTunes podcasts. It's just that people don't know or care that their podcast feeds get updated by way of RSS.

RSS will live on if content creators continue to provide it. I think the issue is that no one except tech people really care, so at least the tech blogs (and Hacker News) will continue to support it.

Getting content via social networks seems like a step backwards, but it seems like it's what most folks are fine with.

Apple's RSS support was utter pants. I use RSS all the time, on Apple platforms exclusively, and I'm overjoyed to see it gone from Safari and Mail.

I use https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/rss-icon/ in order to bring back the RSS icon in Firefox.

Interesting. If RSS' days are numbered, what sort of technological change can we expect from popular news aggregation sites like popurls.com?

I don't bother with a blog aggregator much anymore but I don't see itunes ever replacing rss/atom for podcast feeds.

seriously - it's a 'subscribe' function. i don't give a fig if it lands in my inbox or a reader or my email's RSS inbox. so long as the function continues (and email is a fine proxy) I'm fine with it.

I use a few RSS in my iGoogle (mostly global news, just in case the world is ending or something which I would like to know instantly), and LOTS in my Thunderbird. How else would I be notified when this or that blogger, who writes one amazing article once or twice a year does so?

Don't kill RSS, write a nice guide on how to use it for non-techies and make it viral.

The "follow" killed RSS. To use RSS, user must known many background knowledge, it's too complexly. "Follow" is a simply way to keep trace the information which you interested.

It's always social media vs RSS. I mainly see this storyline pushed by tech blogs. They use social media, all their tech blog peers use social media, they see that most of their users use social media. Tech bloggers then start to feel that no one must use RSS anymore since everyone is on Twitter or Facebook, when in reality it is just their circle that has abandoned RSS. Unfortunately, since most people form their opinions of technology from the people who have been loud enough to form a reading audience, more people also start to believe that RSS is being phased out.

The only "war" against RSS is in the mind of tech bloggers.

I don't find it to be good for much besides keeping track of podcasts. I never saw the appeal of "syndicated content" (blech), I'd rather read websites. Very few people use it when rolled into the browser, it's better off implemented in extensions and standalone apps.

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