Is RSS Dead?

RSS’s demise has been predicted with startling regularity and a quick Google search returns 400 million results. While that’s not a reliable indicator in itself, many of the main technology websites have featured “goodbye RSS” articles for more than 5 years. Others will appear now Bloglines has joined many other systems in RSS heaven.

RSS gained widespread adoption during 2005. It was an exciting time and web marketeers began hyping a new technological revolution. RSS was mentioned in the same breath as Ajax and Web2.0. It didn’t matter that few people understood what these terms meant or how the technology would be applied.

RSS means “Really Simple Syndication”. It’s a standard data format based on XML which can be created and parsed by the majority of web frameworks and languages. A basic RSS2.0 one-link example:


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<rss version="2.0">
<channel>
	<title>Example feed</title>
	<link>http://www.example.com/</link>
	<description>This is RSS</description>
	<lastBuildDate>Mon, 11 Oct 2010 12:00:00 GMT</lastBuildDate>
	<pubDate>Mon, 10 Oct 2010 12:00:00 GMT</pubDate>

	<item>
		<title>My article</title>
		<description>My first RSS article</description>
		<link>http://www.example.com/my-article</link>
		<guid>1</guid>
		<pubDate>Mon, 10 Oct 2010 12:01:00 GMT</pubDate>
	</item>

</channel>
</rss>

RSS was quickly adopted by IT experts and power users. It (effectively) allowed websites to push articles to you — there was no need to visit a site and manually check for content updates. New desktop and web-based RSS aggregators appeared every week. Browser and email vendors quickly jumped on the bandwagon and implemented RSS features.

Despite the advantages, few mainstream web users ever used a feed reader. Perhaps that’s not surprising:

  • The terminology and jargon was far more complex than the technology it represented.
  • Few people know what a browser is; what hope is there for a “feed reader” or “news aggregator”?
  • Aggregators generally require an understanding of RSS URLs — again, a foreign subject for many people.
  • Users understand web searches and page requests, but having content ‘pushed’ is a harder concept to grasp.

Many articles accuse the meteoric rise of social networks for the death of RSS. A Twitter stream or Facebook update is easier to comprehend and appeals to a broader user audience. The evolution of these systems has seen a corresponding failure of RSS aggregator products and services.

However, RSS is far from dead. Users may not realize it, but the technology is beneath the surface powering inter-website communication and interactions. Most of the social networks provide or consume RSS. Mash-ups often use feeds to combine data. Google devours RSS data to power website and product searches.

RSS has become a transparent data-exchange protocol. Like TCP/IP, the user need never know it’s there, why it’s being used, or how it works. Few people interact directly with feeds so news aggregators days may be numbered — but RSS is here to stay. It may not receive the same marketing hype, but RSS is working silently and effectively in the background.

Now available … 5 RSS Reader Replacements for Bloglines…

Win an Annual Membership to Learnable,

SitePoint's Learning Platform

  • Freek te Water / @freek

    Indeed, RSS is far from dead…
    You can expect RSS to soon re-surface to the front-end of everyday web life, as web users will soon want + need an easy and visually attractive oversight of all their Social Media content (Twitter and Facebook feeds), combined with their preferred news articles (of say, Engadget, Gizmodo, BoingBoing, Guardian, NY Times, etc).
    As Social Media dashboards will soon take a flight, usability issues now preventing RSS to be easy to use, RSS will also grow in popularity again.
    Check out Feedly.com for an attractive, handy + customisable RSS dashboard, using your Google Reader feeds or direct rss-feeds and also integrating Twitter. Still a small learning curve, but almost there… :)

  • aamiraarfi

    Hi Craig,
    You have rightly pointed out that RSS is [lifeline] now a back end data exchange protocol for social networking sites and apps. And I would also like to add that the new network channels strive upon updating information delivering it without delay to compete with each other, so now they keep track of the latest posts or news (via RSS) and bring it to our virtual social circle. We have the advantage of receiving latest information at our door steps (read apps or social networking sites) which in fact came into existence because of RSS. RSS will not die, the structure might change from XML to JSON, long live RSS.

    Regards
    Aamir

  • Darek

    This begs the question: “Is asking if a certain thing is dead in article headlines dead?”

  • http://www.bobbelderbos.com/ bobbelderbos

    Thanks Craig for yet another interesting article. I agree, feeds are all around us and they become more important with the focus on sharing in social media world. I never really used RSS readers much till I discovering google reader that got me into the game. It gets me all the interesting news pushed to me and in my view it’s much more efficient for new-reading than abusing your mailbox for this or scrolling through an never-ending twitter stream.

  • JHig310336

    Isn’t Twitter nothing more than an RSS feed. Same goes for Facebook when they decided to copy Twitter’s feed a few years back?

    I think the traditional method of RSS (blogs) are dying. I personally don’t know anyone who RSS blogs and other contents sites. I stopped RSS a few years back. The idea of users loading or visiting their favorite RSS reader isn’t whats going on today. Instead we visit sites who’s back end is based off RSS but itsn’t presented to the user in a traditional RSS way.

    Every major Social Network ‘feed’ is essentially an RSS feed of some type. It may not be pulling day from outside sources, but it is pulling data from from somewhere, mostly internal these days.

    I find Twitter to be better than traditional RSS. I don’t visit any news sites, instead I “follow” those sources and get all my news, in addition to friends feeds, delivered to me in one location. Similar to RSS.

  • Slacker

    And for a small bit of irony. I got this story via RSS thanks to google reader and reddit.

  • Daniel S

    You ask if RSS is dead in the headline. Then, you come to the conclusion that RSS is NOT dead. I read a few articles about the question “Is RSS (really) dead?”. No, again, RSS is definitely NOT dead. No matter how often the question is telled.

    Sorry for my bad english and greets from Germany.

  • http://www.ciudadesmayas.com elviajero

    I don’t see RSS as dead. There are many services that integrate very well with this kind of data and allows us webmasters to save time updating other services

  • Stacia

    Of course RSS, and especially syndication as a concept, are not dead. But the RSS reader, even like Google Reader, may be dying. At least in my world. I could never keep up with my reader (tried Bloglines, NetVibes, and Google Reader), but Twitter lists have made dealing with syndication easier for me.

    For one, I don’t get backed up and stressed out. I don’t get the “101 Unread Items) message. I either get to them or I don’t in Twitter. And sources aren’t grouped – posts from the same source are mixed in with other sources, which makes it more fun for me to go through.

    And what with a “liking” and “recommending” being so easy from web pages now, articles just show up in people’s FB feeds anyway so why bother with a separate thing to keep up with. Twitter and FB are already mashed that way.

  • john

    The death of RSS will probably be microformats.

  • lordspace

    I don’t think RSS is dead.
    Wordpress uses it to export/import posts.
    Nice catchy headline by the way :)

  • http://www.bulevardi.be bulevardi

    I never used RSS, and never will…
    If I ask friends or family, none of them even knows what RSS is… see how famous it is already after all those years :)
    It’ll die a silent dead :)

  • Azeroth

    Somehow people assume that if a thing is not used by majority then it’s dead. Lots of people use RSS, I use Google Reader to follow stuff in development world. There is no way I would have time to go through all pages link by link to see if there is a new post about something.

  • koyama

    Failure to design just one single RSS reader which satisfies usability principles is my guess why we are having this discussion whether RSS is dead or alive.
    I must have tried more than a dozen RSS readers: web-based readers like Google Reader, Firefox extensions like Brief, Sage, browsers’ built-in solutions like in Firefox, Opera, readers integrated in email software like Thunderbird. Not a single one of these did I feel satisfied with. After hours of testing I can still not recommend a single RSS reader to my friends. Either they are too difficult to use or they present feeds badly. Right now I am using the Brief add-on for Firefox which has many problems (no pun intended), but still better than the others I tried.
    About once a year I check to see if situation has got better. Design cycles seem to take forever when it comes to RSS readers. Why?

  • Sibidiba

    Sure, there will be people who never ever will use yet know what RSS is.

    But unless there is an alternative for RSS, it will stay and die out by evolution. C’mon, it has no alternatives (Atom is the same as RSS); I’m following like 50-60 feeds through RSS. None is going to go to all these site every hour to check for new content…

  • Attosecond

    RSS isn’t dead, even the idea is stupid. Was RSS ever really popular? So why sit around predicting its death?

    I get ALL my news stories (slashdot, reedit, google news, you name it) through RSS. I wouldn’t have found this article without RSS – too many feeds to keep up on, I’d go nuts without RSS

  • stacye

    Hahah! I read this post through my RSS feed.

    If RSS dies, then I would probably read half the sites I normally do.

  • Gabriel

    Got here from dzone’s RSS feed. Agreed it is a bit early to spell the death of RSS.

  • tinonetic

    It’s probably better to say RSS usage, as we knew it in the beginning, is dead. Because it relies on XML for safe & cross-platform data interchange, it is a very flexible and useful in different ways.There are countless applications that benefit from RSS, many not visible to ppl. I’ve never used an aggregator for my own purposes but have developed a desktop app, not primarily as an aggregator but that does aggregate specific RSS feeds. And there’s no mention of RSS to the users.

    If you look at it as a user, you may see it as dead. If you look at it as a developer who considers it as one of many, safe and firewall friendly (XML) data options, its here to stay.

  • http://www.keithics.com keithics

    I use RSS, I think it’s far from being dead. Talking about WordPress and other blogs!

  • josebb

    Well, I use Firefox’s Live Bookmarks for all my RSS feeds, including news, Sitepoint’s RSS and many others and I’m very happy with it. I find it very easy to use.
    I am the only one who uses Live Bookmarks?

  • Phil T

    For me, nothing beats RSS – certainly not Twitter, *yawn*, even though I keep hearing it does. It doesn’t.

    I haven’t found a better and more efficient way to target / filter news than an RSS reader (Google Reader is my weapon of choice). I’ve been using it for years and I’ll continue to use it for, probably, as long as people keep churning out valuable RSS feeds.

  • Henry

    I would not have encountered this page without the dzone’s rss feed.

    So RSS is far from dead, book it!

  • Sylvanus

    Hi Craig,
    I read your post about the end of Bloglines and questioning the end of RSS. I agree that RSS has a bright future as more plumbing behind the scenes than a front-end experience. In fact, I know several people who are looking for an alternative to RSS front-end readers and I’d like to offer another option; YourVersion http://YourVersion.com
    YourVersion is a content discovery engine that allows users to receive real-time tailored content on the topics they most care about versus having to manage RSS or multiple sources.
    YourVersion launched last year at the TechCrunch50 Conference where we won the People’s Choice Award. We have a website, browser tools and a suite of free mobile products including our free iPad http://bit.ly/yv-hd , free iPhone http://bit.ly/yv-app and Android apps so our users can Discover, Bookmark and Share on our site or on the go.
    Thanks for the great article and I invite you to try
    Sylvanus