18 thoughts on “RSS is Dead… Long Live RSS”

  1. I’m unconvinced. Feed subscription icons appear in the address bars of every single browser now, making explicit links on pages less necessary (and indeed, they often don’t appear at all).

    (I know it was a convenient thing to screenshot, but fact is an RSS feed of tweets just isn’t that useful).

  2. “I’m unconvinced. Feed subscription icons appear in the address bars of every single browser now, making explicit links on pages less necessary”

    Ok – I should have grabbed that into the screenshot too… but I think you’re wrong: for most people, I’d be willing to wager the feed icon in the browser address is invisible to them, and they have no idea of what it means or what sort of call to action (and consequences thereof) it represents.

  3. Do you think that ‘follow’ is going to be more meaningful to most people than ‘subscribe’? I think you’re right that mainstream adoption of feed readers isn’t going anywhere, but as you know, the versatility and potential of RSS, continues to make it a very attractive web standard for developers. It can be invisible but still effective.

  4. A few weeks ago, I asked my teaching assistant (who has an MA in ed tech and doing a phd in education) to find some resources for me and to make sure to get me their RSS feeds as well. The first question I got was, what is an RSS feed? The second question was, ok, so how i find the link? I found that this is definitely not the minority. In the words of a different student (whose blog I can’t find right now), “They [RSS feeds] might have been around for years but I’ve only just caught up with them and glad I have. Almost as good as iced berries with a hot white chocolate sauce. But more useful.”

  5. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

    Certainly, RSS isn’t dead. Following and subscribing are both calls to action. They’re just different actions. I’m not sure it’s useful to compare them this way as they’re not equivalent.

    It’s also not that surprising that not many people use RSS. It’s a feature for heavy users — which, by definition, most people aren’t.

    That said, I completely agree that ‘Subscribe’ is a poor call to action, as is most of the text that is used to link to feeds, and that that certainly hurts RSS’s adoption by new users.

    I use “Get Feed” most of the time, but I’ve no idea if it’s actually better!

    1. I dunno, Harry. I don’t think of using RSS as a call to action. It requires even less action and less commitment than visiting the website regularly.

      I bet ‘Get Feed’ means nothing to my mother, a regular but not heavy user of the web. ‘Follow’ is just bloody weird to most people at first, but ‘subscribe’ is commonly understood. People ‘subscribe’ to magazines and other information sources unrelated to the web. But even ‘subscribe’ has got RSS relatively little takeup. If an RSS reader were available on your telly, like Teletext or BBCi, it would make more sense to people, I think. The idea of sitting down to scan through a news reader on a PC display, is at odds with how most people engage with the web, I reckon.

  6. @harrym I’m not sure what point I was making either!

    Something along the lines of:

    1) most people don’t know what the RSS logo denotes, or how to ‘use’ it;

    2) social networks like Twitter and Facebook have somehow communicated to people the idea that you can subscribe to, and aggregate, streams of content from other people;

    3) maybe by looking at how social networks have got people into the subscription thing, we can do a better PR job for RSS (but talking about RSS is not the way to do that – communicating some sort of bnfit is);

    4) even if we did get people into the idea of subscribing to feeds from websites, saved/prsistent searches tc, where would people view the result?

    5) it just struck me – how successful ar “email me updates” buttons on wbsites? Not very, I suspect.

    6) Hmm, maybe people don’t actually think of websites having ‘updates’. (So as well as sunscribe and aggregate, social networks have got across the idea of ‘update’?)

    7) maybe the sort of updates that RSS is typically used to communicate – 500-800 word slabs of content – is not content peopl want to be updated about?

    @joss I’m not convincd people really grok ‘subscribe’; to me, it has the primary implication of payment, rather than serialised delivery or access to on-demand content from a particular channel.

  7. Hmm, well.

    I really do think that RSS is a feature for power users. I don’t think it’s unusual (or bad) that not very many people use it. It’s used by more than enough people to make it valuable.

    That said, I agree that we should do a better job when it comes to advertising feeds, and selling their benefits — but I see that as a usability problem, first and foremost.

    Perhaps it’s one of those things that requires a leap of faith: is its usefulness apparent before you try it?

    As for email alerts, mySociety’s experience is that they are massively used: more popular than RSS by orders of magnitude. I’m not sure how useful they would be for “email me when there are updates” but “email me when something specific happens that I care about” is a very successful model.

    Also — I did see some research (which, alas, I can’t now find) that showed that RSS uptake was much improved when “subscribe” was *not* used as link/button text for a feed. They theorised that people associate it with payment, and so don’t click it.. Hence “Get Feed” — still a call to action (as opposed to “RSS feed of stephenfry’s tweets”) but not one with financial implications!

  8. I take your point, Tony, Harry, about how ‘subscribe’ could easily be confused with paid subscription. Naively, I rarely associate the web with commerce! Still not convinced that ‘Get Feed’ is going to attract any more non-power users. It might have made sense to refer to syndication as a ‘wire’, which is somewhat more understood by the general public than ‘feed’, because of its historic use in broadcast and print media. I fee like an idiot when stood in front of Uni staff trying to teach them about ‘feeds’. Even ‘syndication’ makes more sense.

  9. That makes a lot of sense.

    Do we need a new name, though, or should we just give up on making RSS a mainstream feature?

    I shall straddle the fence for now :)

  10. What’s wrong with the text “Get Updates” ? That’s much clearer than subscribe (which implies payment is required), follow, or anything else I’ve seen to date.

  11. – I’ve demonstrated to people how RSS feeds can work with NetNewsWire and while many people will ‘get it’ they often then say, “I don’t really need to follow the ‘news’ like that.” (Then I say, “When I say ‘news’ I don’t mean it literally: it may be Mac news or IT news or music software news or what-sites-my-friend-bookmarked ‘news’.”)

    – Some people will get RSS feeds in Google Reader and get *really* excited, although they previously shunned a standalone reader. This reinforces the idea that people won’t use a tool unless it’s in a web browser.

    – RSS seems increasingly valuable as a developer or Web2 technology. We can push and pull data around, as with Friendfeed, or similar WordPress plugins, Pipes, etc.
    Won’t use RSS? Then I’ll pump the RSS output of my publishing tools (WordPress, Vimeo, Delicious, etc)) into Twitter, where you can click to Follow.

  12. I agree that the main problem with RSS is as most respondents suggest: the understanding of language/terminology. I also believe that ‘follow’ can be equally confusing to many of our colleagues.

    I quite like BradBell’s solution because I use it for myself. But why?

    I find feedreaders are the real problem. Whilst they collate all the feeds you have subscribed to (agree with Joss re: pay/not pay confusion for some) you still have to GO TO the feed reader – it doesn’t come to you unless you have an even more complicated system (Pipes?) that takes more effort to set up than the feed is worth (Sledgehammer v Nut). Wouldn’t it be easier if RSS could be collated by my email service and presetned alongside my email?

    Or, does that happen and I’ve missed it?


  13. An RSS of Tweets would be like a bag of gobstoppers – one is nice – many is offputting.

    The whole would definitely be less than the sum of the parts.

    Some thoughts can be expressed in a 140char string; many require an essay.

    Yes RSS needs to be better marketed but once seen it is easier to get to grips with/ in the habit of than Tweeting

  14. I use my work’s ms outlook (2008?) to “follow” to your blog – I have a few that I “subscribe” to… (Tim Harland, Nick Robinson, ) It works well. I would like to see “comments” append to the current thread(google wave?). But other than that I like RSS Feeds in Outlook, and would recommend to my friends.

  15. One way of making feeds more ‘visible’ to the average user would be subscribing to them using Netvibes/iGoogle gadgets then setting it up as their browser home page, so at least they’re seeing the most recent items each time they open their browser. I’m planning to do a staff training session at my institution this year introducing RSS among other this; will be interesting to see what the take-up’s like.

  16. Edith, I’ve given staff workshops on the ‘advanced web’ and I agree that Netvibes and other Dashboards are a really good way of introducing the concept of feeds to people. It works well. Often they have their own Yahoo or Google accounts, which provide dashboards so they can use those instead of setting up anything new.

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