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RSS: What Not Dying Looks Like (theoldreader.com)
328 points by srikar 1235 days ago | hide | past | web | 149 comments | favorite

I agree, but with a caveat. Google closing reader wasn't RSS' tombstone, for sure. Rss is stronger than ever and, as pointed out in the article, it's still widely used by small and big players on the Web. Unfortunately Google Reader was the gateway into the RSS realm for those folks who just wanted a quick way to keep track of their news. For those folks, who aren't certainly programmer nor can appreciate the subtleties of RSS' survival, RSS is definitively dead. Those folks are the vast majority of Web users. I think we may say that the most popular front-end usage of RSS has died when Google closed reader.

I don't agree with the void-to-be-filled theory, because that void has been quickly filled already by Twitter, Facebook and other self-sufficing, closed and mind numbing services that have nothing to do with the fluid open nature of RSS. Many many users have quickly shifted to that mindset and they won't be back. Do you think those millions of BuzzFeed reader can give a crap about RSS?

So yeah, you can archive google reader closing shop in the "google's unforgivable mistake" directory.

Source: I'm a web editor (not for English speaking websites as you may have understood) since 2006. I've seen the shift all happen under my eyes. It's sort of disgusting.

> Unfortunately Google Reader was the gateway into the RSS realm for those folks who just wanted a quick way to keep track of their news

I confess: I literally cannot understand this. There must be a thousand RSS readers, many of them allowing at least some privacy, some of them by e.g. not running on a remote server, which also means their existence and usefulness does not depend on someone always being kind enough not to pull the plug. What the bloody hell was so special about Google Reader?

Features, performance and, later, social network. I used standalone readers but they were poorly suited for casual use – fire it up, wait minutes for every feed to be checked, etc. – and they require a lot of local storage + CPU to do things like store history, determine whether an item has substantially changed or had only cosmetic corrections, etc.

Reader used Google's infrastructure so it was always running and your feeds were up to date when you opened them (unlike most desktop readers, they also adjusted the schedule automatically so frequently updated feeds were polled more frequently), and they stored everything with first-class search for history, which also came in handy if a popular site was overloaded since the cached feed content could still be viewed.

Finally, the real jump in usage happened when they enabled social features. Being able to see who else had publicly shared or commented on an item was a great way to find people with similar interests and there were many great conversations to be found. See http://www.buzzfeed.com/robf4/googles-lost-social-network for a rundown of just how popular Reader's social features were. I believe a key reason why Google+ never went anywhere was because Google actively killed the Reader network and a large percentage of early adopters, journalists, writers, etc. got the message that you should never invest more than transient time in a Google product.

"frequently updated feeds were polled more frequently"

Even better, they supported pubsubhubbub, and were a very early adopter. I think even now, most readers don't support this - it's one of the reasons I settled on Newsblur as a replacement. When I tested with my own feeds, I saw new items appear within seconds of publishing them.

Good point - update latency was definitely a large part of why I chose Newsblur.

For me it was the ability to search all my subscriptions' history from the beginning of time.

Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but I think that with the impending Google+ restructuring, we might see Google Reader resurrected.

I doubt it'd come back from the dead but if they put some effort into making sharing / finding friend's shares in, you might see something similar to separate things to read from status updates and lunch photos. After, of course, unbreaking the social model which won't happen quickly.

Ease of use.

Not everybody wants to setup an RSS reader (or knows what one is).

But setting up an RSS reader is no different from installing any application. For crying out loud, that means going to an app store for much of the RSS-reading Internet or clicking next, next and finish for the rest of it.

I know I sound like an elitist schmuck when I say it, but I'm increasingly starting to think all this ease-of-use thing is getting a bit out of hand. If there are people are willing to sacrifice performance (Google Reader's UI was slower than Liferea's first versions, and that's something!), privacy and reliability (an installed RSS reader does always work, as opposed to a public, remote service, ran by an advertising company) just because clicking "Install" is hard for them, I honestly wish all these bad, evil companies they're outraged about mine the shit out of them, from their eye color to the size of their underwear. I get legitimate cases (e.g. you're behind company firewall and you're on your work computer so you can't install anything), but installing a program really shouldn't be a difficult task otherwise.

While I get the sentiment, I'm thankful that you don't run the world.

Most computer users forget that they have years and years of experience with computers, because they actually played with computers for their own fun for years. So the things that seem drop-dead simple for them are drop-dead simple if you have years of experience.

I'm certainly thankful my doctor has never told me "you know, if you can't be bothered to understand biology, I'll just let the diseases kill you", when he has 7+ years of knowledge that I don't.

> Most computer users forget that they have years and years of experience with computers, because they actually played with computers for their own fun for years.

The fact that pretty much any user who reads RSS feeds uses applications that do not come with the operating system by default is, I think, proof enough that installing an application is really not that difficult. Being one, I get why Slackware users have issues with that (hhehe) but we're really not talking about a complex maintenance issue here...

We're not committing our users to death. All we're asking is that they learn how to put on a bandaid.

I think this is a common attitude today in all walks of life. We seem to be incapable of thinking for ourselves now, whether when using a computer or crossing the street. I'm amazed that we're still allowed to drive cars.

Don't worry, soon, we won't. Just wait for the statistics to show autonomous cars are safer, legislation will soon follow. Give it 20, 30 years tops.

I don't want to use a standalone RSS reader any more than a standalone email client. There's a reason everybody [1] switched to webmail.

In any case, a web RSS reader that I run myself (tt-rss or similar) is a pretty good compromise.

[1] Yes, person who is about to reply, I know you personally didn't.

There's a reason everybody [1] switched to webmail.

No, "everybody" uses Outlook because corporate IT likes how all the microsoft stuff integrates with itself.

Everybody also apparently uses their phones for email now, which I understand tends to use installed apps rather than the web browser.

[1] Yes, person who is about to reply, I know you personally didn't.

Right, ignore and marginalize all the people who have counterexamples to your claims.

I actually use Outlook as an RSS reader. It's not very good but it works and that way everything is in one place.

Also, I think Outlook is much better than any other mail/calendar client I've ever used.

I read HN, Reuters, Re/Code, Atlantic and New Yorker in Outlook. I love the mostly text-only experience and am finding that I read content in a less prejudiced way when all the color distraction is gone.

>[1] Yes, person who is about to reply, I know you personally didn't.

Maybe you should have said "Some people," then.

E-mail clients are a terrible example. While relatively easy to install, they give you very little control, and no additional privacy.

To get all that, you need your own server. Ideally a home server, but many ISP forbid you to send e-mail at all (they close port 25). The next best thing is a remote virtual machine with root access. Either way, good luck installing Postfix and Dovecot. I have, and there's no way the "average user" could do the same.

So, of course you don't use an e-mail client.

>many ISP forbid you to send e-mail at all (they close port 25).

Can anyone name an ISP that forbids their customers from using SMTP to send mail?

My guess is that the person I'm quoting is confused by the longstanding spam-control measure in which the ISP requires the outgoing mail to go through a mail server designated by (and usually run by) the ISP rather than going directly to the recipient's mail server.

But if I'm wrong about that, I want to know!

I'm not confused, and know exactly what you are talking about.

Call it pedantic, but yes, they do forbid you to send e-mails. Instead, they force you to ask them to send e-mail for you (that's how SMTP relays work). They're not completely forbidding you to use SMTP, but they do require that you go through their servers. That's quite the restricted SMTP usage.

The snail mail equivalent would be to forbid you to ship your mail yourself. Instead you have to give it to the official postal services so they can ship the mail.

Why would they do that? I see only one reason: they want to control your mail. They look at the destination, and maybe decide they won't ship the mail after all. They look at how much mail you send out, and maybe they won't send more than a dozen per day. They may open the mail (or otherwise X-ray it), and take "appropriate" action depending on the content, including not shipping it, building a customer profile of you and your recipients, writing your name on some black list, or archive the mail, just in case.

Spam mitigation? That's just a pretext they use to snoop over your private communications. (Or, more accurately, control their network. They will always push for more corporate control, that's what corporations do.)

Of course, you can bypass the limitation by using HTTP to ask another big corporation to send your mail. And receive and store your mail too. And deeply analyse it so they can show you customized banners. And give it to the authorities whenever they ask for it…

Such an Orwellian nightmare would never fly in the physical world. In the digital one however, they can capitalize on people's ignorance.

> I don't want to use a standalone RSS reader any more than a standalone email client. There's a reason everybody switched to webmail.

I do use a standalone client. IMAP is nice enough with the messages and I don't mix my personal and work contacts, so the addressbooks are easy to sync. Unfortunately, save for Roundcube, which sucks in moderation, I'm not aware of any single webmail client that doesn't suck.

The same goes for my RSS feeds, but I do have a setup that is probably hard to replicate for someone who doesn't work with computers for a living, so that doesn't count in the argument :-).

P.S.: I actually use webmail for work account because IT hates me. It's not too bothersome. The only thing stopping me from migrating my personal accounts to their respective webmail interfaces is not being able to import my abook contacts :-).

Also, sync. Reading from multiple devices is frustrating if the read/favourite history isn't carried over.

This, very much. I often read my feeds while commuting, walking, waiting, etc. with a phone or a tablet. Then I read with one PC or another. If the reads wouldn't be synced, a lot of time would be spent just skipping the posts I've already seen.

Ah, yes, this is nice indeed.

Plus Google Reader had some pretty magic features like adding an RSS feed and getting years of history because it already knew about it.

One of the biggest features still missing from my chosen replacement (feedly).

I start reading my RSS feed in the morning sometimes on a tablet. On the bus in the morning, I switch to my phone. Sometimes, when I want to read something in more depth or send to a colleague at work, I open it up on my work computer. Then, at home at night, it's back to the tablet or my laptop.

The operating systems involved include iOS, Windows, and Linux.

Which standalone RSS feed will allow me to keep track of what I've read on all places?

You might look at Fever[1] ($30) or Tiny Tiny RSS[2] (free). I seem to remember hearing about a few others back when Google Reader went down, but I don't recall their names.

1. http://www.feedafever.com/

2. http://tt-rss.org/redmine/projects/tt-rss/wiki

Millions of non-geeks subscribe to podcasts. Those podcasts are delivered, (notification of new podcast), through RSS. The user doesn't have to know they are using RSS. They just download install any podcast app from the app store or the play store and search for podcasts inside the app. The fact that RSS is what makes it work is irrelevant to them but it does make it work.

I suspect it also powers things like Flipboard and Zite (no idea of people still use those).

"that void has been quickly filled already by Twitter, Facebook and other self-sufficing, closed and mind numbing services that have nothing to do with the fluid open nature of RSS."

RSS was there before Facebook and Twitter.

RSS will be there after Facebook and Twitter.

One of the neat things about RSS is that I don't have to care whether it's the Most Popular Thing. I just need a reader, and someone publishing it. No "boil the ocean" required. I used RSS back when the number of publishers could be counted in the dozens. It was still a useful technology!

If you're then inclined to argue "but what if everyone stops publishing it?", a "boil the ocean" of its own, my response is that I'll worry about that when it happens. That would take a lot of people to stop publishing it, and... in modern times, it's so easy to publish RSS, and you own it, not like your Twitter or Facebook integration, so I don't expect the value proposition to go sour for everyone for a long time. (And I don't really have to worry about all the readers going belly up, there's enough open-source desktop readers if nothing else. To say nothing of the open source server-delpoyable ones.)

just need a reader, and someone publishing it.

But publishing it takes effort, and if usage isn't high enough people might stop.

It takes effort proportional to the number of content creation methods, though, not proportional to the amount of content. On an amortized basis the effort is tiny, and the gain is often greater than the cost. Even if you want to argue the gain is tiny itself.

And, frankly, that's already a dubious claim and getting more dubious. An RSS subscriber is very "stickied", and thus very valuable in a lot of ways. I mean that even beyond mere money. A lot of the other putatively "better" approaches are a great deal less powerful, again, because you don't own it, the "better" service does. Witness the way Facebook decides whether or not your "subscribers" get to see your posts, making them a great deal less valuable than an RSS-subscribed reader. I expect this to play out over and over, and for RSS to retain its position of indicating "I am a serious subscriber" for a good long time.

Facebook et al can offer you a better short-term outcome, but as such things scale up, the incentives pretty inevitably turn towards trying to capture the value of your subscriber base themselves. RSS disintermediates that fairly successfully. And since nothing particularly stops you from offering that on the side... why not?

Nah. Publishing an RSS feed is basically free, consumes few resources, and requires little maintenance, comparable to a sitemap generator.

Case in point, a client of mine (one of the top 2 or 3 US corporations you might think of off the top of your head outside of tech) wanted to start publishing a daily email digest of content aggregated from all their content outlets. I tell them OK, send me all your feeds, I'll whip it up in no time, and there it was, delivered early and under budget. They publish on Wordpress, Tumblr, etc, sites that give you RSS feeds without work.

It's much easier to go to /rss and get the content than have to coordinate with however many teams and organizations it took to create all those sites.

Probably more importantly, I have never found a decent reader.

Which ones have you tried? For me, RSS readers are a pretty personal thing, like text editors. People have preferences for how they want to read this stuff.

I haven't used one since Newshutch shut down back in 2009 or so. I can't remember the names of any that I tried except Google Reader, which I used for about... 20 minutes total?

Probably not coincidentally, that's about when I started using HN.

Have you tried The Old Reader (whose blog post you just read)?

I absolutely love it. Unfortunately, I had to give up on using it last week since I had too many feeds to stay on the free version.

I'm now using Digg's Reader and I'm happy so far. Updates more often than (the free version of) The Old Reader too!

InoReader(.com) is the only one I've found post-Google Reader that gets out of my way and lets me read things. The experience on mobile could be improved, but it works well enough for me.

I just use rss2email. Everything I want an RSS reader to do, good MUAs already do.

It'd be very interesting for a major player like Wordpress.com or Feedburner to release some statistics on the number of view their feeds actually get now compared to, say, 5 years ago. I suspect your "stronger than ever" is not backed up by the evidence.

What's to stop—not slow down, but stop some one or ones from, so to speak, turning the tide with regard to RSS's adoption by the tech-indifferent?

What mindset was there to begin with prior to the shift to Twitter, et.al?

Also, please, will you elaborate on the shift?

RSS won't be adopted by the tech-indifferent because it's a technology. It's not a service or a company and therefore doesn't have anyone with a vested financial interest pushing it as a platform. Also, it doesn't fit into the advertising-funded clickbaity world. It's therefore only adopted by people who think about what they are doing and what they want out of their internet, rather than people following the shiny path of least resistance and most popularity.

I'm in agreement.

(My mistake on using adopt when it was probably better to say "use".)

People forget about the social element of Google Reader. It never took off - the ability to follow your friends and see what they are reading - to share articles with contacts etc.

I'd have liked more leveraging of the social graph with that app - they missed an opportunity

I believe that's a central feature of NewsBlur now.

I use InoReader primarily because it de-emphasizes the social element; it's something I don't feel the need to use. It does still have an option to view "trending" content across (presumably) all users' subscriptions, it's just not in your face if you don't want it.

If RSS "died" (and I don't think it did), then it was when the main browsers stopped showing the RSS icon next to the URL and started hiding RSS feeds and links.

From a user perspective, the thing about RSS is that most readers/clients were designed as if they were email clients, where you mark articles as read/unread. Who wants thousands of extra "emails" in their inbox to check every day ?

From a site perspective, most sites were stuffing the whole web page in each RSS article such that RSS was not a summary. Then they realised that people reading RSS weren't reading ads so they either killed RSS or made each article one line.

From a programmer perspective, writing an RSS client became a hello world of applications programming such that there were millions of very bad clients.

RSS is very much alive and very useful; but maybe RSS as we used to think of it is dead. It's a background thing that browsers and applications should make use of

I think the big challenge for RSS and the web in general is link rot.

"From a user perspective, the thing about RSS is that most readers/clients were designed as if they were email clients, where you mark articles as read/unread. Who wants thousands of extra "emails" in their inbox to check every day ?"

Me? And its more like dozens BTW not thousands?

There's a fundamental perception issue best described by analogy.

In many living rooms is a box that displays video. Some people insist that all humans only want to view streamed live content that someone else controls. Some people insist that all humans only want to view the output of a perfect DVR. Both extremist positions are of course wrong.

I have 104 relatively low traffic, yet VERY important to me, feeds in my newsblur rss reader. I'd be hyper pissed off almost beyond words if newsblur decided to only display the 10 most recent posts. I'd have to dump them and their attractive mobile client app and go back to self hosting a feedonfeeds installation, which doesn't really work on mobile, but at least it would display all the new news to me rather than a subset.

Most sites that screw up RSS don't have real content anyway. Just linkbait surrounded by ads. Not much of a loss.

> "Who wants thousands of extra "emails" in their inbox to check every day?"

My response to that is: Who wants thousands of Facebook Twitter Instagram Pinwhatevertube sites to check every day? Just have them all sent to one place, and check that.

I only want one inbox, total, ever, to check. All of my email, plus Twitter, Instabook, Whatevergram, plus all posts from any blog that I really want to follow, plus any Google Alerts of any topics that I follow — all of that, in one place. An RSS reader and some jumping through hoops lets me achieve two inboxes total, my email plus "everything else", and that's good enough for me at the moment.

> Who wants thousands of extra "emails" in their inbox to check every day ?

This. It's akin to joining a gym - 'hey, this blog is good. I should read this regularly to make myself better' and we subscribe to the feed.

But life happens and we start ignoring the new posts. It builds up and everytime we open the feed reader we see thousands of posts unread. This makes us feel guilty.

Or you are somebody like me that has about 60 feeds in his news reader and looks at it every day.

Oddly enough I've been using the old reader:


I don't think very many people thought RSS "died", rather the _opportunity_ for RSS to become the dominant, cross-source publishing standard has died.

There used to be a world where all things on Twitter and Facebook were published to RSS feeds, drastically lowering the barriers to entry for experimenting with content consumption ideas, or cross-content aggregation, or personalization, etc.

There used to be a world where big, public technology players like Google and Firefox were helping on-board new users, and appeared to be making a long-term commitment to the technology. When Google Reader was a thing, the rate at which non-technical users in my personal network were starting to talk about RSS was astounding. And _everybody_ was thinking about whether or not RSS was a natural fit for their product/idea/platform/drone/toaster.

There was a moment in history where RSS was poised to become as ubiquitous as e-mail. But that opportunity was taken away, because the big tech companies either couldn't or wouldn't innovate on their business models, instead they're focused on the near-zero-sum game of user acquisition and retention.

A similar thing happened in the late 1990s with the major ISPs - AOL/Compuserve/Prodigy/etc actively encouraged you to only communicate in-network, e.g. how their chat clients initially worked. Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for us), their core identity system was based on the already standardized technology of e-mail. And eventually the ability of others to provide better/different experiences via e-mail (Eudora, Hotmail, Gmail, etc) changed how people viewed those networks.

This time around, the big tech companies are much more self-conscious regarding user base degradation, and the risks of having their core user experience compromised by out-of-network innovation. Consumers always lose this game.

This is my feeling as well. RSS is alive and kicking as a technology, I still use it as a core technology for a product I'm building. But, consuming raw feeds in a reader is what's dead or at least endangered. That experience has now moved to Twitter and Facebook where we rely on our influencers to feed the news consumption and which has been cut off from outside development opportunities.

What bugs many of us feed reader users, though, is that Twitter and Facebook (as well as most other wall or stream based content aggregations) are very bad at information management.

One thing is the singal-to-noise ratio, but another is the issue of infrequently updated content. Anybody that posts only once a month will get buried on any normal Twitter or Facebook feed. With RSS you can easily keep track of infrequent posters even if you have high-volume feeds in your reader.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Facebook had an optional "power user" mode where you get a view that is not unlike a file browser, allowing you to conditionally hide/remove/manage parts of the information flow. Maybe I could be tempted by that.

But then again, I'm no usability expert. Maybe I'm just using reality wrong.

I think reality means that the Facebook business is based on stuffing as much near-relevant garbage at you as possible, which is much harder over RSS.

I can understand that, I've spent many hours of my life getting that unread count down, or on the positive side seeing a new item for a favorite feed. Twitter liberated the guilt part, but has not filled the hole of knowing when something important is new.

I found it quite funny that I read your comment after finding the HN stories in my RSS feed on Feedly.

Excellent comment. One quick heads-up on formatting: if you use asterisks instead of underscores to emphasize text, the HN text processor will actually set the text in italics. For example, instead of writing

    rather the _opportunity_ ... And _everybody_ was thinking
to produce "rather the _opportunity_ ... And _everybody_ was thinking", you can write

  rather the *opportunity* ... And *everybody* was thinking
to produce "rather the opportunity ... And everybody was thinking".

Very well put!

My RSS reader (http://kouio.com after Google's shut down) has always been my complete command centre:

- Google Alerts

- LinkedIn updates

- Every issue/comment/star on my Github projects

- The exact ages of my children every day (via http://howoldismykid.com)

- New questions per tag on stack overflow.

- New messages for individual Google Groups.

and so much more.

I was just lost when Google Reader shut down thinking I'd lose all that, RSS really is the universal API of web data.

That's a slick RSS reader. I have previously used The Old Reader for its simplicity. I am currently using Feedly as it has good Android support and are doing good job with Evernote integration. Thanks for suggesting the RSS reader and the age RSS app.

RSS is a very good nice technology from users point of view. One place to get all your news but it's a shame that companies like want to move away from open protocols like RSS and XMPP.

I have so far not been able to solve the problem of reading Hacker's News and Reddit. The easiest way to read these news aggregation sites have been to visit their front page. I couldn't find anything that would send posts that come on the front page of HN and Reddit in my RSS inbox.

I use the web version of kouio on android every day, it's tailored directly to mobile devices:


You can also push articles out to a whole ton of services at once, including Evernote:


As for HN and Reddit, RSS is perfect for these - HN has its own RSS feed dedicated to front-page items:


It gets even better with Reddit, each individual subreddit has its own RSS feed, eg:


With kouio I group together all the interesting subreddit feeds under a folder called Reddit - then I can view them individually or all together at once.

reddit's RSS features are even better than that. You can feed off users, searches, multireddits, comments on a specific post, submission from a domain, and probably more.



Thanks for the info.

Don't you get myriad of posts with those the official feeds [1] [2]?

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/rss

[2] http://www.reddit.com/r/systems/.rss

For reading HN try this:


I skim only the top 10 of each day (meaning that you'll get only articles with more than 150 upvotes). It can be tricky if you are interested in good specific articles (that normally don't get 150 votes). In that way you need to see the top 20 of each day.

That is certainly better experience than using vanilla HN. Thanks.

Kouio was exactly what I was looking for after Google Reader shut down. It kept enough of my favourite features such as j/k vi-style movements, starring and organisation whilst adding its own. I've not run in to any hiccups, despite the beta label.

Thanks for the list of uses I hadn't considered -- I tend to lose track of mailing lists.

How are you organising these feeds? Just interested because that is always my downfall. End up subscribing to loads of stuff and eventually stop reading

Well that list above are all things I kinda class as "personal notifications", so I put all those into a folder - in kouio you can view a single folder at a time, or expand it and see the unread counts against each feed (pretty sure Google's worked that way too).

Then everything else goes into various folders, with a couple top-level main feeds that I don't put into a folder at all, here's a screenshot:


Cheers bud! Think i'll do some RSS organisation later. I like the idea of subbing to stack overflow tags - hadnt heard of that.

Yeah I only found those recently and it kinda blew my mind - great way to keep an eye on the kinds of blockers people have with a particular technology.

Does it do podcasts?

Thanks for the reference to Kouio - I just switched to it. So far, the UI looks even better than Google Reader. Especially on Mobile.

I'm starting to that RSS isn't dead - it was just never alive in the sense that most people who say "RSS is dead" mean.

The majority of the population does not use RSS, does not realize RSS exists, and does not care about RSS. That's a fact, and has always been true and will likely remain true in the future.

When people say "RSS is dead", that's what they mean - it's a technology that never got a share of average users actually using it. So saying that RSS dies is ridiculous - by that definition, it was never alive.

I agree with the clarification that "it's a technology that never got a share of average users aware that they were actually using it." Plenty of people subscribe to news feeds in Twitter; what do you think the backend technology is supplying them? Podcasts have also been mentioned.

People don't use RSS the same way that people don't use JSON: they don't know or care about it, but it's a key component of many of the services they use every day.

Good clarification. The only thing I'd add is that the many people banging the "RSS is not dead" bandwagon tend to be talking about RSS as a consumer technology, in my opinion. A lot less people are talking about "XML is dead", for example. Even software devs don't care so much about technology :)

I can't think of a better way for me to quickly browse hundreds of Web sources than RSS. Speed is key, and the option to save things of interest for deeper review later.

One of the things that made it hard to find a replacement for me for Reader was that so many new rss readers do too much while not offering a simple, compact list view.

As it happens I decided to go with The Old Reader despite some speed issues.

I have a side project that aggregates news for a sports team I follow. Over time I've been collecting RSS feeds from different sources on the internet related to this team.

I went back and validated whether the feeds were alive or not and about half of them are now defunct. The sites that removed them seem to have moved on to the main social networks as seen in the various chicklets in the page that accompany the articles.

I wonder if they no longer value RSS or if its getting killed in site redesigns? My suspicion is that not enough people use RSS to warrant providing that functionality. There seem to be too many steps for users to use RSS while it is easier to get that content by using something more "standard" like Facebook or Twitter.

RSS was never meant to be a product. It is a format and a spec. Products are built around the spec: apps that push it, clients that pull it. It has incredible value where machines speak to each other. Much of the 'dying' was fed by the deluge of RSS-as-product based companies that thrived at that time. Those companies and products probably are dead, but RSS is not. And that is not surprising; not at least for me.

"every major news site is broadcasting via RSS"

This is an exaggeration.

One of the biggest news sites in the world, bloomberg.com, serves up no RSS feeds.

Forbes.com doesn't have RSS anywhere on their home page, and has dropped it from, as far as I can tell, every single story page. They only have this page left: http://www.forbes.com/fdc/rss.html which is a dying collection of years old RSS links (on a page with an ancient template design).

I deal with RSS feeds a lot in my business, and many of the top sites are a mess when it comes to keeping their feeds properly linked to their site structures as they update.

He's talking about actual news sources, not syndicators who resell news to optimistically obtain ad impressions.

Here's a typical actual source of news:


My local dead tree newspaper takes those reuters stories, wraps them in some style, some local color, some lasagna recipes, and tries to resell the reuters stories for the ad impressions. Its a dying industry because I can just subscribe to a reuters feed... Of course a feed like


Must be 1000 news stories per day, at least some days. MostRead is somewhat saner, maybe a post every two hours or so (depends on the day).

I would pay for a reuters feed. Maybe not much, but I'd pay something, maybe between $12/yr and $52/yr. I wouldn't pay a penny to a small time syndicator who merely adds lasagna recipes and local high school sports team stories.

One problem with a site like bloomberg is you've got something a cross between machine generated infotainment and a feed of news releases better obtained from the sources anyway. I'm not sure "journalism" counts as "news" anymore, if it ever did.

Bloomberg has a staff of more than 2,400 journalists and editors.[1]

This is the same Bloomberg that sued the Federal Reserve to make them release the names of the recipients of the Fed's emergency loans.[2]



I actually use Digg (http://digg.com/reader) for my RSS needs. (Remember Digg?, right?)

Me too. And I find myself reading their top stories links too.. Decent Android app (free) also.

Me too. Loving it so far. A bit too white, maybe.

I just wish they fixed a bug where pressing "j" does not mark as read the first post. Kind of annoying. I have to press "k" first, then "j".

I rarely find a site I want to subscribe to that lacks a feed.

An easy way to find RSS feeds in Firefox (this still works in FF 24 ESR, at least):

1) Click View > Toolbars > Customize

2) Find the RSS icon; drag it to someplace convenient on one of your toolbars

3) When you find a page/site to which you want to subscription but don't see a feed button, check Firefox' RSS icon. If it's activated (i.e., not greyed out), click it and subscribe.

Another solution that maybe is too obvious to mention: Search for (adjusting for your favorite search engine's syntax): rss|feed site:domainname.com

Most readers I've come across will let you paste in a url and it will try and discover the feed for you, which beats having to search for it. Obviously having the icon in FF helps you know if one is available.

and if doesn't have a feed: page2rss.com can create one to monitor for changes.

My very first thought whenever I want to read more about a website/blog, subscribe to the RSS.

I see less and less the RSS button though, so I have to play with the URL /feed or /rss to get the feed. Too bad.

Have you tried just putting the main website URL into your reader? Many support autodiscovery[1], as long as the site has the proper HTML tags set up.

[1] http://www.rssboard.org/rss-autodiscovery

Firefox has a Subscribe button which you can use, though it is not there by default (to get it, open the customiser, at the bottom of the menu, and you can then drag that Subscribe button into the menu.)

View source and search for "feed" or "rss" or "atom" or even "xml".

> Then Google thought they could abandon the technology and assumed everyone would gravitate to their social networks instead.

This is probably the most baffling of all the pathetic attempts I've seen to shoehorn a nefarious motive into the closing of Reader. If the contention is that shutting down Reader would force people to social networks, WHY would Google expect people to go to Google+ instead of the social network with multiple times the usage (Facebook)? I've never seen a piece of data that indicated that Google+ was doing any better than a distant second to Facebook (depending on how you count YouTube), and it does even worse on referral traffic (which is more relevant when you're talking about a replacement for Reader). This is probably the funniest tinfoil hat I've ever seen; Google shut down Reader so that people would be forced to use Facebook more.

Before closing Reader, they disabled comments and you had to share on G+ to comment on stuff. Shares and comments were why I used GReader in the first place.

TheOldReader brought that back.

If that were the reason for shutting down Reader, they probably would have done better by merging it into Google+.

Exactly. I understand the tendency for people to assume malice in every action taken by a company they don't like, but it still blows my mind when people can't realize how insane they sound while desperately searching for threads of conspiracy to tie into some evil master plan.

The more straightforward explanation, is that it would drive people to use Google Search, which RSS effectively bypasses.

I think some pretty impressive mental gymnastics are required to see web search replacing even a tiny portion of the functionality of RSS, particularly when compared to other "feeds" like FB, G+, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Well that's certainly true but it doesn't contradict his point. A free RSS tool prevents a lot of otherwise would-be searches. Especially since Google Search basically replaced URL input.

Does it really? I can't imagine anyone tech savvy enough to use an RSS reader, just switching to manually searching for each site. It's not like free RSS readers stopped existing with the death of GReader, and there's Twitter and even just bookmarks.

It 100% contradicts his point. Google loses more from the massive amount of people who would be pushed to spend more time on Facebook and Twitter than they do from the microscopic amount of extra searches you think RSS displaced.

And I still don't see how that even makes any sense: Googling something is an active search for a specific piece of content (even as broad as one site) and feeds of any kind are passive consumption of content which is brought to you. I can't imagine a universe in which someone loses their feed of content and increases their web search activity instead of switching to another (perhaps less-useful) feed of content.


If you set up a server-side aggregator, with keyword filtering (imagine a large list, something in the +thousands of words) and have your reader check for those words every few minutes, you're basically plugged into the search engine, completely bypassing their front end. You can suck up their results, then filter those yourself, again. Even when they give you a limited number of searches, you can still set up multiple smaller RSS feeds, then put them all in one big feed. Do this for multiple search engines and you never have to click on their pages again.

It's basically a free service with no return for a search engine, while they're paying for the processing.

Nah, it's not dying or anything. It just isn't very popular. It never has been. Reader was a niche product.

RSS as a consumer facing tech was never really alive. The way it lives today is as an medium of transportation. Its the equivalent of a news page in JSON format. But unlike JSON, it is purposebuilt for article delivery, instead of being simply data delivery.

I never understood the issue with Google Reader, as I always used native clients to receive RSS updates.

Every time one uses a "web app" is giving control over to third parties.

Maybe, but not having to synchronize your feeds between different devices and platforms is a good incentive to give up that control.

You can use a self-hosted web reader, like Tiny Tiny RSS. Best of both worlds, in my opinion.

Then you need to pay for hosting, or do some geek-gymnastics with Dropbox or similar (and at that point, your data is again on somebody else's server)... A lot of bother for non-geeks.

Sure, but I've never met a non-geek who used RSS anyway.

You can say the same thing about software. I used to use the built in reader to Opera but all that was dropped recently when Opera dropped their codebase and turned into Chrome.

What's your client?

Mostly the browser integrated RSS readers, I just follow a restricted set of sites.

From the article

  > no one ever has to know what feeds you subscribe to.
Whoever runs the server knows you're reading that feed from their server logs.

That would be a poor assumption. How can it distinguish a single user's reader from a shared service like NewsBlur, which will request a feed on behalf of hundreds of users? The server knows that some aggregator is pulling its feed, but it has no way to tie that to a user.

There are other ways, though: images in the feed that call back to the server, for example.

True, but it is quite possible that is you yourself.

If you selfhost your reader, you control the logs. If you use a reader, the server admin might now what feeds you have. But the server who hosts the feed (the blog) has no idea, tracking doesn't work easily - that is still an improvement.

I think he means the server hosting the RSS feed and not the server hosting your RSS tool (like the late Google Reader).

In that case, the server hosting the feed does now nothing about you as soon as you are not the sole user on a server hosting a feed (I sure wasn't sure how to interpret that, so I tried to cover both cases)

The server would know your IP address, and most likely your user agent and referrer by looking at their weberver log though, right?

cf. eg. : https://panopticlick.eff.org/index.php?action=log&js=yes

Which server exactly? If you use a feedreader, it is not you or your browser that fetches the page, it is the feedreader itself. So a site only knows that their feed was fetched once from a feedreader, not who or how manye people read that feed.

Note "feeds" is plural. There's no way for a server admin to get a list of other sites you subscribe to, unlike a centralized app like Google Reader.

Yep, that's a fair point.

Imho, The biggest threat to the public use of RSS is not the shutting down of aggregators, but the dire situation of Feedburner. Since RSS is no longer part of Google's business strategy, it might not be long before Feedburner is sacrificed as part of their annual culling. It's easy to import an OPML file into your new aggregator -- but due to the decouple nature of publishing and subscribing using RSS, if/when Feedburner goes off, millions of content pubilshers will be left in the dark with no way to connect with their subscribers. That's truly worrisome.

I'd elaborated on this in a blog post I wrote a while ago (When Google Reader shut down) -- http://dickfeynman.github.io/blog/writings/what-the-fate-of-...

I also imagine something like IFTTT has made RSS more relevant than it's been in a long time.

I love RSS, my deal aggregator site http://dealbert.net is completely based on RSS feeds. The problem that I have is too many RSS feeds could simply overwhelm subscribers who would have to weed through the content to find information that interest to them. It would be golden if IFTTT could also has a channel that does content recommendation based on feeds.

I'm working on something like this. Would you be willing to chat about it?

I hope it isn't uncouth to mention my RSS reader here: https://github.com/edavis/riverpy

It treats RSS like a newspaper instead of email. Here's a demo: http://riverpy-demo.s3.amazonaws.com/index.html

I'm biased, of course, but I think it's a pretty interesting take on what an RSS reader can be.

RSS is more active now than I ever remember it being when Google Reader was around. Really interested to see what the next few years bring.

Another take on that theme: Pulp for Mac.


I love hearing about this. I've been growing my reader Minimal Reader https://minimalreader.com/ for the past year and can say that thousands of paying customers helps reassure that there's still a market for RSS.

RSS is here to stay as long as people using RSS continue to support it by building atop the infrastructure, funding innovative products, or even just requesting a feed from their favorite publishers if they don't have one.

i still dont understand why they killed Reader. all they had to do was say, "hey guys, would you pay $3-$5/month to keep it". people would have thrown money at them.

As I said at the time on Twitter, that turns Reader into an excellent $X million a year business. Google does not "do" $X million dollar businesses.

This is true - it happened at the time of them announcing fees for Google Maps. There was some management decision to go for things that directly made money at that time, and drop those things that were not growing.

I think that would have been ideal, but I get the feeling that the response _still_ would have been: "Google killed Reader by charging, no one will use it now! How dare they charge for taking advantage of an open format! What happened to 'don't be evil?!?!?' "

Perhaps they perceived it as competition to Google Plus.

I'm almost sure it was this, or Google Now's news alerts. They don't want people to choose when to read their news. They want the news to choose how many people read their articles. Advertising is the name of their game.

Netscape invented the underlying code in the late 90’s, and then took away all documentation and support in 2001 after AOL bought them out.

So, what happened ?

If I remember correctly, I moved to using theoldreader after Google Reader went dark, then you were down for 3 days, then you kicked all the Reader's switchers out (like me) to keep a more a manageable operation. For a little while it's not RSS that seemed dead, but online RSS readers were definitely a rare breed. Happy to see that you've changed your mind about limiting access.

I hope RSS will never die. I used iGoogle for years. It was the best way to have a nice overview of all sites I would have visited each instead. Twitter for me is no surrogate so that I coded a simple clone: http://www.fyrup.com Feel free to use it.

I have a whole folder full of RSS feeds. It's an easy way to keep up with blogs, webcomics, and news, all without wrecking my privacy by giving away my reading habits to a third party (formerly google, now whoever everything-as-a-website fans like instead).

Google still has a js rss api, in fact i'm using it with my pure client-side rss reader (backed by dropbox api) which is still in early stages ;)


Very happy with my post-Google Reader RSS reader: https://mnmlrdr.com/.

These guys really care about the user experience. The mobile interface is spot-on.

I do not think RSS is going anywhere.

rss is also a wonderful way to route data around the web, and lets a non-geek get into programmatic-like consumption of news with only a limited understanding of web technology.

its also fairly effective at storing and working with geodata. I really like the Geonames rss to georss geocoding API.

shameless plug for attention on a for-fun doo-dad I built: intelmap.com uses an RSS feed generated by a hackernews clone at news.intelmap.com and drops it on an openlayers map. a better example of geoRSS is syria.intelmap.com, that is a collection of more lively feeds.

Yesterday discovered Inoreader, already tired by Feedly's lack of Android's notifications, ATM seems to me the best platform to substitute/improve Google Reader.

I still use RSS feeds on a daily base... just because google wants to push G+ rss is not dead...

What a non-article.

RSS can never die, obviously, it is a technology.

What dies is it as a/the standard.

It simply isn't anymore, there are other ways to do what RSS does, similar to RSS except, whoops, it isn't RSS.

without numbers this is conjecture surely?

Among the other parts of the Web which, ironically, don't have any RSS feeds: Google Plus.

But it's dead anyway.

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