In the wake of Google Reader and the midst of social media’s reign, the RSS feed chugs along
RSS allows publishers to syndicate information automatically, to deliver content right to users’ fingertips. They no longer have to check their favorite sites to see if new content has been published—technology does it for them. But these days, that convenience is commonplace. Social media enables an even larger audience not only to receive content from the sites that interest them, but to become publishers themselves. Although few are questioning that RSS has a space in the digital content consumption marketplace, many contend that the space may be shrinking—a theory bolstered by the demise of Google Reader.
Google retired its service, which was the most popular RSS reader, on July 1, 2013, explaining, “While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined.” (However, many believe this decision had more to do with office politics and Google’s plans for its own social network, Google+.) A host of worthwhile services, including This Old Reader, Feedly and Flipboard, were ready to take in the millions of Google transplants, but although RSS still has a fierce and loyal following, social media is proving a sufficient alternative for the average user.
“We definitely see more publishers using the option for social networks versus the option for RSS,” notes Bruce Ableson, vice president of client solutions at LiveFyre, a tech company that offers a suite of real-time products that allow users to curate content from various sources and host in one place. “We still use RSS Feeds all the time, though, especially at the smaller publisher level,” he says.
Although there’s still a huge need for RSS, Ableson notes that publishers seem more incentivized to drive readers to follow them on social networks than to subscribe to their RSS feeds.
“It’s perfectly possible that for many, social media is the new RSS,” says Rob Hicks, founder and chief data scientist of Bright North. “RSS was all about putting alerts in one place, which is exactly what Twitter does because most media sites have at least added, if not replaced, their RSS with Tweets.”
The problem is, there is a lot of noise to get through. Twitter isn’t only about signifying a new piece of quality content. It’s a hodgepodge of hashtags and interactions, making it difficult for users to quickly identify what’s worth reading. “It makes sense that brands and publishers have embraced Twitter, but whether it does as an effective job as a good RSS consuming platform is another story. I don’t think it does,” Hicks opines.
What Twitter does do well, of course, is the social aspect. “Social networks give people the ability to recommend stuff and become pseudo-publishers even if they haven’t written the content they’re sharing. I might follow someone because they are excellent curators,” says Hicks. “It adds a new level of curation which you could argue is more valuable than the original RSS thing was in the first place. I’m not sure I would agree, but I see the argument.”