RSS is Dead; Long Live RSS!

By Sterling “Chip” Camden
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

Steve Gillmor says that RSS is dead. As a member of the RSS Advisory Board, I feel compelled to inform Mr. Gillmor that his pronouncement is a bit premature.

Gillmor’s point seems to be that people no longer directly consume RSS feeds through their feed readers – that they spend all their time on Twitter and other social sites, engaged in a real-time conversation instead. They get their news in the form of shortened URLs that others have Tweeted, rather than following all the posts from specific blogs.

That may be a trend, but it’s far from the whole story. Even though Twitter’s popularity is skyrocketing with between 1 and 2 million tweets per day as of this writing and possibly reaching 12 million users by the end of the year, that still represents a small fraction of the overall Internet population (which now stands at over 1.5 billion).

How do all those other people consume their news? Well, besides the Luddites who still rely on email chain letters, a large number of Internet users subscribe to feeds. TechCrunch, the parent site of TechCrunchIT on which Gillmor posted his rant, reportedly passed the 2 million subscriber mark earlier this year. I don’t think Michael Arrington would consider all those subscribers superfluous, nor would he second Gillmor’s advice that they unsubscribe and rely on Twitter to tell them when anything interesting is posted in the future.

Even people who don’t use feeds directly often benefit from them without knowing it. Aggregators like FriendFeed use RSS or ATOM as a transport mechanism to gather the feeds they present to their users. I’ve often thought that users have to go through too many steps to subscribe to most feeds, and these aggregators represent just one way to simplify that. I’ve always expected that over time users will lose their awareness of RSS as it becomes ubiquitous. They won’t need to connect the wires in order to use the telephone any more.

Gillmor also makes much about the revolution that full text feeds brought to news consumers. I agree – I like to stay in my feed reader rather than clicking through from summaries or titles to read the full article. But Twitter reverses that – often you don’t get a summary, or even a recognizable URL to give you a clue to the content for which you’re invited to click. Is that progress?

How about you? Do you still read feeds? Has Twitter or some other social site changed the way you consume information online?

[Crown picture source: Flickr (CC)]