There’s lots of talk today about how RSS is dead, and whatnot. Let me set things straight.
First of all, as a practical matter, RSS has never been alive. Ask anyone other than a hard core geek (like me) what RSS is and they won’t have any earthly idea. RSS is probably the most useful tool on the internet, but regular people don’t use it. Why? Because no one has figured out how to make money pushing RSS feeds, and so the informal brotherhood of mercenary content producers (e.g., old media and big new media) don’t embrace it. In fact, they really don’t want you to use it. They’d rather force you to their web sites where they can serve those ads you never click on, but that advertisers still pay for.
It’s the desire for money once again screwing up something beautiful. The environment, professional sports, our computers, etc.
This conspiracy to kill RSS is just one more attempt to prolong the death of an antiquated system. It’s the same sort of battle the record label cartel is waging against the digital distribution of music. In the case of RSS, the system they are desperately trying to save is the one in which the provider selects and aggregates content, either on paper or a website, and the consumer accesses that content at the provider’s place. Where the experience is tightly controlled, complete with ads, etc. Under the new system, which will be much better for the consumer once it matures a little, the consumer selects both the content and the package, and then accesses it wherever he or she wants: internet browser, phone, RSS reader, Facebook, etc. Of those choices, the RSS reader is currently the best choice, by far.
It is easy to use. It’s free. It has archival and search features. You can organize it any way you want. There are tons of ways to slice, dice and organize your feeds. Only the fishy smelling partial feeds used as bait by those trying to keep control of the experience detract from what would otherwise be a nearly perfect experience.
A perfect experience that the brotherhood is trying to ignore and the attention deficient bloggerati are trying to replace.
Many are boldly stating that, while simultaneously saving the entire world, Twitter is the best way to get our news in 2009. There’s a lot wrong with that argument, but I’ll settle for three gigantic and obvious flaws:
1. Twitter is nothing more than a shared partial RSS feed. Other than a headline, every bit of the content one consumes via Twitter is located elsewhere. Someone tosses you a scrap, but to get the meat, you have to take a walk- usually right back to one of the brotherhood’s sites. If you don’t think this has something to do with old media’s love affair with Twitter, you’re not watching closely.
2. Twitter has no meaningful archival value. The ability to save a big pile of “Favorites” takes us back at least a decade, to the era of chaotic browser bookmarks. Nobody, other than the deeply Twitter-addicted, sits in front of his or her computer all day staring at Twitter, which means that if you aren’t staring at the screen when something happens, that something will soon drift away on a river of quotes, links, self-promotion and spam. If you have any meaningful number of Twitter follows, that breaking news story that Robert Scoble talks about will be buried in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Meanwhile, your RSS feeds wait patiently for you in Google Reader, nestled in topical folders (paging Evernote) and ready to be read by you, on your timetable.
3. Twitter’s search capabilities are rudimentary at best. You can search your feeds via Google Reader (and no doubt other feed readers) in just about any manner you can think of.
Now, about that real time thing. I have complained loud and long that RSS needs to be faster. But when I talk about slow, I’m talking hours. The difference between two hours and 15 minutes is one thing. The difference between 15 minutes and 5 minutes is another.
And about this single criteria speed assumption. . .
Why are people assuming that faster is always the goal? That more is better? I don’t know about you, but I’m not really in a race to find out some piece of news before anyone else. If you’re a gossip hound and you get your news from any online source, you’ll have plenty of time to blab to those who still wait for the TV news or morning paper. And if you’re just someone who wants to stay informed, why do you need instant? And if you demand instant, what price are you paying in terms of the experience?
It’s like skipping the movie to watch the credits, in fast forward. Maybe it saves you a little time, but at great detriment to the experience.
Once again, there are way too many people drinking the Twitter Kool-Aid- apparently from a fire hose.
If RSS is really dead, it’s the brotherhood that killed it, not Twitter or any other flavor of the week. People need to wake up and realize before it’s too late that RSS is the best thing going. It is the single best way for users to take maximum control of the content and presentation of their news, simply because the man doesn’t own RSS. The people do.
The man doesn’t like RSS because it’s disruptive of the establishment. We can kill it, but if we do we’ll be sorry.
So what’s it going to be, the man or the people?