Reboot RSS readers? Sorry, that train has left the station

Loic Le Meur, CEO of Seesmic, and I were arguing last week about whether RSS has a future or not. He speaks up for “it has a future” on his blog. Dave Winer today has a great post on how to reboot RSS.

First, lets separate RSS readers from the format. You know, Google Reader is not the XML that flows underneath. Truth be told, even in Twitter and Facebook a lot of what I read gets there via RSS even though we really don’t know that and don’t care (just like most of us no longer type “http” at the beginning of a web page, and we don’t care that the system that delivered my words to your screen was built on top of HTTP).

What is dying is our RSS reading behavior. Over and over people tell me they are using RSS readers less and less and that they are using Facebook and Twitter more and more. Dave Winer is right about one of the reasons: that Google Reader wasn’t a river of news.

But there were lots of other problems with Google Reader as well. For one, it lost me when it added Friends in an attempt to become Facebook, but when I added more than 1,000 friends it got dreadfully slow. The only way the team could fix that problem was to delete all my friends. Twitter works, and works fast, even though I am following 22,000.

Also, normal people couldn’t figure out what RSS was, or how to use it. Facebook’s “likes” and “shares” and Twitter’s “follows” and “RTs” are much easier to use, and more consistent.

Now that those buttons are all over the web it’s going to be very hard for a new news reader to get us to add yet another “share on RSS system” button. Sorry, but that’s just not gonna happen unless some RSS system is able to get a billion people to use it before Facebook can.

Instead of arguing about RSS reader’s future, I will instead focus on Twitter’s and Facebook’s future.

For me, that future includes a few things:

1. Tracking and filtering. You really must watch the video on DataSift. DataSift is going to make RSS very much less relevant as we’re able to build new filtering systems.
2. Client innovation. That includes the new TweetDeck and Seesmic (last week Seesmic shipped a new client and plug-in platform) as well as new pagination systems from, Twitter Times, and Flipboard (I’ll be at Flipboard today, they are working on a new version that will be out soon).
3. Content optimization systems. SocialFlow is being used by the Economist, GigaOm, and RWW. The video I did with the founder gives a hint as to why I think SocialFlow is something that content-producing teams should consider.
4. New advertising systems. CompassLabs has built a new platform that delivers much more relevant real-time ads to Twitter and Facebook clients. My video gives insights into that.
5. Curation tools. There’s a couple of good ones coming from and Storify. More when they hit the market over the next few weeks.

All that innovation is happening on top of Twitter and Facebook, not on top of RSS, and I’m seeing signs that we’ll see even more soon (Demo is this week, Techcrunch Disrupt is in a couple of weeks).

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

100 thoughts on “Reboot RSS readers? Sorry, that train has left the station

  1. I think Google Reader is massively under-rated – most probably because it is so much more than an rss reader. A couple of months ago I was wondering if there was anything better out there for editing, annotating, collating and re-publishing feed items as a blogging tool. I read loads of articles and reviews comparing Google Reader to other rss tools. Hardly any mentioned the re-publishing features of Google Reader and, if they did, it was just in passing.

    What I would not expect anyone to have to do is read the unattractive (I was going to say “vile”) public pages generated by “Share with a Note” in Google Reader. Although you can send shared items directly from GReader to Twitter and FB, I prefer to send them to Posterous and autopost from Posterous. That way, if someone does want to read more they will at least have a more pleasant screen to look at. I also use the “clips” feature to embed different streams of GReader “headlines” in a website. (Including the rss feed from Yahoo email list that I pull into Greader and then push out again as part of a “collated clip”).

    I use Amplify for blogging about, and finding, things that interest me and there is a great community of people there who want to discuss, ie. rather than just passively consume or robotically regurgitate content. However, for efficient wrangling and collated, annotated re-publishing of “bread and butter” content, if there is something better than GReader out there I would really like to try it.

    I have never thought of Google Reader as a “social” tool and I can’t see it as competition for the likes of Facebook.

    However, rss is great for Facebook – I am using Tigerlily to bring blog content, photo’s and Twitter feeds into Facebook Pages. Ideal. No extra work once you have set up Tigerlily (I have tried Networked Blogs and a couple of other FB rss apps but have found Tigerlily to be far and away the best so far).

    The things I started off with (in 2002) were the Yahoo email list (such a faff for people to register and then they forget to update their email addresses when they change them) and then later the GReader clips on a website associated with the Yahoo email list.

    I started looking at other options mainly because most of the email list subscribers use workplace email addresses and over the last couple of years many of them have been finding that their employers block emails from Yahoo (and Google Groups), even though the lists and content are explicitly and solely for relevant professional updating.

    I am pretty sure that they won’t be able to access either Twitter or Facebook if Yahoo email lists and Google Groups are blocked. rss is also routinely disallowed for “overloading the servers”. However, I am hoping that email updates from Posterous and Feedburner might get in under the radar, and that Twitter and FB will suit those who want to access info out of work hours and/or on personal mobile devices.

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  3. “What is dying is our RSS reading behavior”

    I’m on the fence with this statement. With apps like Feedsquares for my android and my6sense, and hopefully Feedly soon. I get more then a shortened link to a story and a 140 character limit. Furthermore, opening these links in a tweet uses the mobile browser. Even the fastest mobile browsers like opera mini, its still much slower then a cached version of the feed.

    Twitter (if filtered right) and to some extent Facebook, is much better then RSS with “instant” word of mouth. Like you suggested if an earthquake was to hit in your area you would be notified much faster then waiting for an RSS feed notification.

    Companies like to get the word out on their products with ease and speed. Retweeting is easy and spreads the word. Sharing your RSS feeds hits a much smaller crowd of people (none of my closest friends even use Gbuzz or Greader), Anything I want to share in my reader get’s sent to Twitter or Facebook. More companies will start to phase out rss feeds, which i hope doesn’t happen. But you see it more and more.

    I simply use both. I’m always looking for a way to put my social streams and RSS feeds together and have it do what I want. I’ve found a few programs where it’s nice to combine all outlets for media in one or two programs, sometimes 3. Seesmic desktop 2 looks good, but still not what im looking for.

    What I’d like to see done with RSS feed readers:

    - Handle various video formats inlay for my video podcasts, Greader handles youtube and maybe a couple of others, but that’s all.

    - Live (realtime) stream with filters, I know google can pull this into reader. They use it in google search already.

    - Desktop notifications of the chosen filtered stream or even multiple filters. Also a must is re-sizing of these notifications and display of them. I’m using a 1080p monitor and would like to be able to read them from my couch. Snackr had a great idea with a scrolling like news ticker, but it’s so small, lacked filtering, or sifting thru manually, and wasn’t realtime.

    - AutoGroup all feeds with videos or audio enclosures. Then much like TV, start going from video to video looking for something to watch or listen to. This should use a different UI when started/clicked upon. Think Boxee’s Friend stream.

    I’m sure I could think of a few more ideas to make RSS more usable/enjoyable for end users, but it’s unlikely it’s going to ever reach the masses like Twitter and Facebook has.

    RSS feeds is my newspaper and Twitter and Facebook are tools to communicate to the world.

  4. Really interesting comments on RSS! I think the thing that kills RSS in the long run is that it isn’t inherently social. Google Reader tries to layer social on top of it, whereas Twitter and Facebook are social by nature. Information there is displayed to us on the sites where we spend the majority of our time.

    Your key point in my mind is when you said “Also, normal people couldn’t figure out what RSS was, or how to use it. Facebook’s “likes” and “shares” and Twitter’s “follows” and “RTs” are much easier to use, and more consistent.” Have you seen any tools that have been able to take advantage of that information to give a curated social media experience? My company is examining how to integrate that info our social media curation platform. Would be interested in your input on how to build those features.

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