Why RSS Still Matters Despite What Google Does #VIVARSS

By Mike Maddaloni on Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 12:42 PM with 2 comments

In past posts here on The Hot Iron I have talked about Real Simple Syndication or RSS. Most recently in a post titled “iGoogle Shutdown And The Demise Of The Personal Home Page” I talked about how subscribing to various RSS feeds is replacing my iGoogle home page.

I Love RSS @thehotiron #VIVARSS

Since that post a major announcement was made this week that Google is dumping its free offering of an RSS feed aggregator, Google Reader, as announced on its official blog and subsequent post on its Google Reader blog. The service will be ending on July 1, 2013, just short of 4 months away. What is interesting is that Google gave a 16-month notice when it announced it was shuttering the also-free iGoogle service. Observing online sentiment over the announcement, there was more emotion over this than the news of the day before of the selection of a new pope!

So why the frustration? For me personally, as I switched to Fever last year, losing the service won’t impact my personal consumption of information via RSS feeds. Before I get into it I’ll offer up an explanation of what RSS is – if you are already in the know you can skip it or go ahead and read it to critique my approach to defining it.

So What Is RSS?

For those who are reading this please note I will not try to get too technical, rather explain the process. RSS is a method of informing of new content published, It is achieved by posting some or all of that content and related meta data, links, inages, etc. to a data file. This data file has a particular structure as it is formatted in the XML language (I won’t get into XML here, but if you must follow this link to learn about XML). That data file is placed on a Web server for anyone to access or subscribe to with a public Web URL (the file can also be private too, but I digress). Whenever content is added or any is changed or deleted, the publisher of the content can update the RSS file. As this file can change frequently, it is referred to as an RSS feed, as in feeding new content to the consumer of it.

The RSS feed in itself is not the only place where the power of RSS lies. Software, called an RSS feed aggregator or an RSS reader processes these RSS feeds that are subscribed to and organizes them to present the content to the consumer. There are a variety of RSS feed readers out there, from installed software, mobile apps, Web services (like Google Reader), as well as Web browsers and email clients. The reader also keeps track of what has been read, so that when the RSS feed is updated, it will show new vs. old content, among other features as linking to the source content on its Web site and social media and email sharing functionality. This concludes this RSS overview – let me know if it is clearer to you, or clear as mud.

Now Back To Our Story

Of all of the RSS readers out there, one of the most popular has been Google Reader, It’s power has been in its simplicity and robust formatting and sharing features, plus the fact it was from Google and integrated well into your Google account and that it was a free Web service. So when it was announced that what may be the most widely used RSS reader is going away in a few months, there was much shock and dismay, not only from people who use Google Reader to consume content but from content publishers as well, as an important channel may go away if those consumers of content do not find an alternative to Google Reader.

So why would content publishers be upset? They are still publishing the content so people can still seek it out to read it. First, I’ll give a perspective to who all of these publishers are. When one thinks of RSS feeds, they often only think of blogs and news. Most all blogging software includes out-of-the-box the ability to generate an RSS feed or multiple feeds, and typically you have to make an effort to turn this off. Many believe – including myself – that RSS feeds plus the ease of publishing have led to the popularity and success of blogs. News Web sites are a perfect match for RSS as they are constantly publishing content. This is why most sites not only offer 1 feed but many have a feed for each section of the site or content categories, such as breaking news.

Beyond blogs and news, many Web sites and information sources offer RSS feeds. A quick look at my own personal RSS feeds show job postings and news from company Web sites, weather forecasts, LinkedIn status updates for all of my connections, sports scores, discount shopping offers, Twitter searches and of course blogs and news.

As I talked about in the previously-mentioned iGoogle post, for me RSS is my main source for information. Moving from Google Reader to Fever has not diminished this at all. However what many fear is that people won’t seek out one of the many alternatives to Google Reader out there, and it could signal that RSS is no longer a viable technology or medium, just because Google is dropping Reader.

RSS Is Simply Not In Google’s Future

This past week’s announcement from Google is not the only activity they have taken against RSS. It has been slowly dismantling and marginalizing its FeedBurner service, which is an RSS “enhancer" providing analytics like subscriber counts, the ability to subscribe to a feed by email and other features to a “burned” feed. FeedBurner has always been a free offering from Google since it bought the eponymous Chicago-based start-up several years ago. Though it integrated inline advertising thru its AdSense service, it never really innovated the overall FeedBurner service or further integrated it like it has done with other acquisitions. Even FeedBurner's look and feel has barely changed over the years.

Recently Google announced it was shutting off the FeedBurner API as well as AdSense for RSS feeds. As a result there have been rumors abound that Google will shutdown FeedBurner altogether. Despite this Google has been silent on these rumors. Now with the announcement of Google Reader, people are biting their lip waiting for the other shoe to drop, and looking to other services like FeedBlitz to replace FeedBurner and keep similar functionality along with keeping their RSS feed live.

RSS Still Not A Household Term

By what I have described here regarding the power and simplicity of RSS, you would think that everyone is using it. However that is not the case. RSS, though a free open standard, has had an image problem in my opinion. It’s as though it’s too “techy” for the average person and as a result has not had universal adoption. Though it has a familiar orange icon and browsers and email clients now process feeds, it is not a completely seamless process to subscribe to a feed. Other than Google, not many large service providers with anywhere near the same name recognition have offered RSS readers. RSS has an identity crisis, with emphasis on the latter word ‘crisis.’

What’s Next For RSS?

RSS icon Just because Google Reader is going away, RSS is not. And in reality, it can’t! As it’s an open standard, as long as someone is publishing an RSS feed file and someone is processing it, RSS is more than alive and well.

Over the past few days I have seen a lot of activity online from those looking for alternative RSS readers such as Fever that I use. A am also sure that entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative alternatives, and I wouldn’t be surprised if another major player makes a goodwill PR move into RSS feed reading as well. On another note, I predict FeedBurner will be eventually shutdown by Google, though that is a whole other blog post on the impact and recovery from that!

#VIVARSS! Do you agree? If so or not, I welcome your comments to this post. And if you do comment, please indicate whether or not you subscribe to The Hot Iron’s RSS feed.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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