Sunday, January 2, 2011

Is RSS Dying? Short answer: I doubt it.

Kroc Camen of CamenDesign.com made a recent blog post about RSS dying (http://camendesign.com/blog/rss_is_dying).  Although I agree with some of the points he made, I disagree with the conclusion and some of the reasoning. 

The post first assumes that the client-side browser settings are the optimal location for RSS feed configuration.

On the contrary, I am an avid RSS user that finds the local browser a really poor choice for storing RSS selections.  This is why I don't use the RSS button in Firefox.  It simply doesn't travel to other computers without reconfiguring those as well.  This is a useless choice for my needs.  When I add an RSS feed to follow, I want that setting to automatically follow me from machine to machine -- even those machines that I don't own.



An online service such as Google Reader is perfect for this.  Sure you give up some privacy by storing what subjects you're interested in to an online service, but Camen already has a GMail account -- presumably with far more interesting material than what blogs he follows.

I agree that most users have no idea what the RSS acronym or icon mean (and that it should be labeled "Subscribe" instead), but the article assumes that they would care if they did know.  Most Internet users are not avid consumers of content, nor do they follow blogs or major news sources.  They tend to go to one or two sites every day (mostly Facebook, YouTube, and TMZ, unfortunately) and everything else is a one-off Google search or accidental click for them.  Period.  Sit down and watch a non-tech person browse some day.  You'll be amazed at how dramatically their behavior differs from those of us in the industry.

Next, Camen conflates the existence of RSS features as the "second most important feature in browsers" with the existence of RSS in general.  This is an important piece of the argument in setting up a false dichotomy that appears to be central to the post:

Either browser vendors make RSS easier to use and more obvious to the average user (and keep the icon on the toolbar by default)

OR

We all are forced to have a Facebook (or another corporate entity) account and it will be the only method for aggregating content so you won't be able to maintain any sort of privacy over what content you read.

Wow, those are really complex items on either side of that coin.  For the most part, the more complex the dichotomy, the more likely it is to be false.

I find it far more likely that RSS will remain as it is today; an underutilized but highly-prized feature that a minority of the web populace use religiously.  Luckily, the people who tend to use RSS are the techies and web designers; the very people who are in a place to ensure it survives. 

The main issue with this article seems to be that Camen has assumed that everyone either uses the web in the same way he does, or would if they only knew it were possible. Perhaps, as a web designer he should spend more time analyzing how "normal" people use the web and less time fretting about the demise of RSS.

2 comments:

  1. Browser syncing will allow your RSS to follow you. Even make intelligent surmises based on what you read on the move, vs. what you read on the desktop.

    "Sure you give up some privacy by storing what subjects you're interested in to an online service, but Camen already has a GMail account -- presumably with far more interesting material than what blogs he follows."

    This is a misnomer, Google are not joining the dots between my communications, but Facebook and Twitter _are_.

    "Most Internet users are not avid consumers of content"

    Because they can’t. They lack the skills and the tools. Microsoft once assumed that the web wouldn’t go anywhere. Consumers didn’t get it, wouldn’t need it. How wrong they were.

    Consumers do not need to know what a browser is to browse the Internet ("the blue E"). RSS should be the same. It fails because it is not natural enough. It is not that the consumer is disinterested in content, it is because it is time consuming and slow for them to access it.

    "Sit down and watch a non-tech person browse some day."

    I do. Every day. It’s my job. I spend 40 hours a week with regular users and I see how much they struggle with badly designed computers and badly designed browsers on badly designed websites that make the consumer’s journey cumbersome and unhelpful. RSS could help reverse that.

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  2. I agree with you on how valuable RSS is and I agree that it would be nice if it were more accessible, but that was not the point of the article. To address the points you made here:

    1. Browser syncing only works with browsers I have control over. I can't, nor do I want to, sync my browser settings from home to an Internet cafe, to work. It especially doesn't work well from Firefox (home) to Internet Explorer (work).

    2. Google certainly catalogs and cross-references your web searches (if you're logged in when searching), your blog posts (if you use Blogger), your location (if you use Google Maps from a location-aware device), among other things. The fact that they haven't been "outed" as selling this information to others does not change the fact that they have the right to do so.

    3. Possibly. I know many non-tech people that don't want to follow specific websites or do anything other than Facebook and the occasional web search. Is this because it's difficult for them to setup and maintain these feeds, maybe. In the case of several of my friends and family, they "don't read that site often." Would they if it were simply in their browser as a feed without them needing to do anything? Some say, "maybe." Some say, "no." None say, "definitely."

    Again, I agree that RSS is extremely useful. I just don't think that a missing toolbar button and lack of support in Chrome (since Google wants you to use Google Reader - so they can catalog your use) signs RSS's death sentence

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