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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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RSS is not dead. Subscribing is alive.

January 16, 2019

Sinclair Target, writing for Motherboard:

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was.

This isn’t the first nor the last article to cover the creation of the RSS standard, its rise to relative popularity with Google Reader, and its subsequent fall from popularity.

But the big point that many of these articles dismiss lightly or directly omit is that RSS is still used as the underpinnings of so many widely popular services today. Apple News, Google News, Flipboard (each with likely tens of millions of users or more) and many others use RSS it is just that people do not know it.

We should likely stop talking about RSS. We need to simply start calling RSS “Subscribing”. “Subscribe to my blog” is the only thing we need to say.

Also, tools like Inoreader, Feedly, etc. should create far better ways to surface content for readers from their active subscriptions. When people subscribe to more than just a few sites it quickly can be overwhelming to people that don’t like to wake up to “inboxes” with 300 unread count. People just abandon those. It is why Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all use algorithms to select which content people should see when they open the app. I’m weird. I want to see everything in reverse chronological order. But “most people” want to see something interesting for the few moments they devote to reading their subscriptions.

RSS will never be as popular as Facebook. Let’s all get over it. But please do subscribe to my site. 🙂

Comments

Replied to RSS is not dead. Subscribing is alive. by Colin Devroe (cdevroe.com)

Sinclair Target, writing for Motherboard:

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was.

This isn’t the first nor the last article to cover the creation of the RSS standard, its rise to relative popularity with Google Reader, and its subsequent fall from popularity.

Colin, I saw this article last week and I agree with your thoughts. Your analysis and the concept of the fear of missing out is a strong one. It’s even more paralyizing when one is following feeds with longer and potentially denser articles instead of short status updates or even bookmarks.
RSS definitely needs a UI makeover. I’ve been enamored of the way that SubToMe has abstracted things to create a one click button typically with a “Follow Me” or “Subscribe” tag on it. It looks a whole lot more like the follow buttons on most social services, but this one can recommend a feed reader or provide a list of potential readers to add the subscription to. Cutting out several layers and putting the subscription into something where it can be immediately read certainly cuts through a lot of the UI problems generally presented to the average person. It would be nice to see more sites support this sort of functionality rather than needing the crufty pages full of XML and pages describing what RSS is, how it works, and how to add a particular site to a reader.
We’ve come a long way, but we still have a way to to continue on.

I’ve always fond RSS indispensable. As for tools creating better ways to surface stuff, Newsblur does allow you to train it, which to me seems more useful than using an algorithm to train me.

RianVDM says:

@cdevroe I really like how you structured your “Subscribe” page in a way that non-tech people would understand. I went with “Follow” as the title, since that’s a word that has become synonymous with getting updates. What are your thoughts on Follow vs. Subscribe?

RianVDM says:

@cdevroe Thanks for the response. SubToMe looks interesting — definitely going to look into that.

hjalm says:

@RianVDM @cdevroe Wow! the Suscribe page is a great idea! Follow is another great name for the feature. Forgive me, both of you, if something similar were to appear within pages I operate.

I use feeds precisely because I don’t want to see everything. I am in control and filter what I see, so I don’t need their black box algorithms.

I am a heavy user of feeds (RSS/Atom), daily checking thousands of them,
multiples times per day. This translates to hundreds of notifications in
the form of e-mail messages, each e-mail encapsulating from one to a
hundred or more entries (news/comments/articles/documents).

To deal with all this, I delegate two tasks to my machine: filtering and
highlighting. My black-lists have more than 35.000 terms. Any entry
matching any of these is deleted. White-lists are used sparingly, for
the few noisy channels that don’t offer server-side search or tags. The
entries that survived are then scanned for words that I consider of
uttermost important so that they can be highlighted (with different
colors for different categories). These words will appear below the
title of the entries, complementing it. If a title fail to convince me
to read the entry, the highlighted words might push me to do it.

I process every message. Unread count at the end of the day: 0. I could
not do this with e-mail alone. For me, e-mail is just the presentation
layer. The process described above could not be done with the usual
e-mail newsletter (unstructured data), but it can be done with feeds
(structured data).

I read the name of the feed reader that I use mentioned in a job ad by
Reuters, so maybe one could say I have cut out the middle man and now I
run my own journal, for only one customer: me.

Dan Q says:

Dan Q mentioned this Article on danq.me.

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