Death to the RSS reader, long live RSS

by Carl Natale on September 13, 2010

Flickr photo by John Larsson

Flickr photo by John Larsson

Much is being made of the decision to pull the plug on Bloglines. For the past few years it has been run by They’re blaming social media. And quite a few people agree.

Likely to blame is that people are increasingly turning to services like Facebook and Twitter to manage what they read instead instead of RSS readers. As Hitwise’s Heather Hopkins wrote last February, Facebook accounted for about 3.52 percent of all visits to news and media sites. Google Reader’s (shrinking) total back then stood at 0.01 percent.

Indeed, in its announcement, Bloglines similarly blames broader trends for its demise, saying, “As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year, being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact. The writing is on the wall.”

via The Death Of The RSS Reader | paidContent.

First, let me say I used to use Bloglines many, many years ago. I abandoned it for Google Reader because it was too buggy. Maybe it got more dependable since then. But I have to wonder if the real reason people abandon it is because of social media.

Second, I’m going to agree somewhat with the diagnosis behind the declining health of RSS readers. Last week I was in a discussion with some people about blogs and where they got their information. The takeaway was that they didn’t really follow any one blog. Maybe they would if it fit these three criteria:

  1. It covered interesting topics
  2. Was well written
  3. Written by a credible source

They usually read a blog or a story or a web site page when someone told them about it (here’s where social media does its dastardly deed) or they found it in a search engine (Google of course).

RSS readers require someone to find a source, subscribe to  it once they decide it’s worth following and check the reader for updates. So that’s a little too much work apparently. Plus they are letting their networks decide what’s worth reading instead of deciding if a source is credible.

Third, it’s not the tools (Facebook or Twitter) but the behavior. Like I said, people are trusting their networks. The tools may change but people will continue to trust their friends or people they want to be friends.

Fourth, not this is about the reader not RSS. It’s still a technology that has a long life. It’s just will be used in a great many other tools. It’s finding its way into our social media tools. Plus information professionals will continue to use it to keep track of topics so they can share with their networks.

What about newspapers?

Maybe this is what’s behind declining newspaper readership. It’s not the news but people are turning to their networks to learn what’s interesting and important. The networks then point them to the news produced by journalistic organizations.

The news is just as important as ever. It’s just that their function as gatekeepers to what is important and interesting is being replaced by the networks.

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