RSS: Dead, Dying or Pining for the Fjords?

I've tried to stay out of the whole "RSS is dead" thing.  Really, I have.  But just when I think people have stopped saying "RSS is dead," someone comes along and says it again, and everyone gets all worked up.

I mean, it's been over a year-and-a-half since Steve Gillmor's RSS is dead post.  If something really is pushing up the daisies, surely we wouldn't have to keep pronouncing it dead all the time?

In all fairness, when I read Gillmor's original piece I didn't think he meant RSS was dead.  That would be like saying "XML is dead" or "HTML is dead" – like RSS, these will be with us for a very long time because they're the plumbing behind so many critically important things.  Steve may be a little loopy (word has it this was caused by listening to "Revolution #9" during a bad acid trip), but he's not crazy enough to rip up the plumbing.

Instead, I read it as though he was saying that RSS readers are dead.  As in, products like FeedDemon.  And I can see his point.  Years ago we all hoped RSS readers would become mainstream, but that never happened.  They're too oriented towards power users, require too much work to ensure you keep getting stuff you're interested in, and don't provide the social aspects of Twitter and Facebook (which IMO are the offspring of RSS readers).

But while it's true that dedicated RSS readers like FeedDemon didn't find mainstream acceptance, that doesn't mean they're dead, dying or even wounded.  It just means their audience is smaller than it perhaps could've been.  We're still talking about an audience of millions of people – not enough for a large company to consider a decent target market, but more than enough to enable smaller companies with the right products to stay alive for years to come.

And I have to point out that while RSS readers may have a niche audience, that audience includes the writers and editors of many of the web sites and blogs you visit.  Yes, many of the people writing the latest crop of  "RSS is dead" articles are using an RSS reader to keep up with the discussion.  They don't really believe RSS is dead, but they do know that writing about it will bring more traffic to their sites.  Which to me is a pretty sure sign that RSS is alive and well.

7 thoughts on “RSS: Dead, Dying or Pining for the Fjords?

  1. Could not agree more Nick. I think as well that it is a huge reach to make claims like RSS is dead. Silly really. Love the idea of thinking about it as the plumbing or framework of lots of sites and services that people enjoy as a part of social networks. Even Facebook refer to their main river of news for each user as the “live feed”.
    True though that RSS readers are the domain of power users but I’ll never give mine up – love FeedDemon :) (nice work with 4.0 BTW). There is no way I could keep up with the topics and news that I do without it. And seriously no way I could get round over 150 sites a day in the same way that RSS and a feed reader allows.

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  2. I haven’t been following the discussion to know if this is the same one, but I am pretty sad to see Firefox remove the RSS icon/button from Firefox 4.0. It seems to come from a survey done of users across 5 days and only 7% used the button. That sounds flawed to me, as I’m a heavy RSS user but even I’m not subscribing to feeds daily, so a 5 day period may not see the real use of the feature for me.
    Google Reader has been (slowly) working in the social features and it’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed on GR now that a number of friends are also sharing articles via GR. RSS is anything but dead.

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  3. You are spot on, just because something is destined to for use by power users and not everyone does not make it dead. If that were the case compliers, hex editors, photo editors, source code control systems…the list goes on, would all be dead.

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  4. Nick – I’ve known Steve Gillmor since 1966, and lived through the sixties with him – I can assure you that Steve was just as “loopy” before acid and Revolution #9 came along. He was also just as brilliant, too…. :-)

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  5. Great article.
    Will you ever publish data on the number of users using Feed Demon (or having used it over time)?
    I still believe that RSS could make it.
    It’s just that browsers are getting in the way. If I see how disturbingly Google Chrome (and only with an installed extension!) handles RSS feeds and the same is true (still/again) for the new Mozilla Firefox 4, I lose hope. I don’t understand why this is necessary.
    Why not put it straight up there and let it up to the curiousity of the individual / user to figure out more about it! If the average joe is spending hours reading Wikipedia articles out of curiosity, I’m sure he’d figure out how to properly use + get benefit out of RSS !
    The second problem is also the quality of the (desktop) feed readers!! Frankly, your product is superb, but there’s (imho) FeedDemon …and then there is nothing for a long time. There are SO MANY bad feed readers, even from a nerd standpoint. How should the average joe would want to put up with a badly designed (in terms of visuals and UI) feed-reader when he can use his browser or Google Reader instead? The average user might only have few feeds (while I only have a few URGENT/important feeds I actually put inside my browser).
    Just my 2 cents.

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