Is RSS Dead?

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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">
	<title>Example feed</title>
	<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>

		<title>My article</title>
		<description>My first RSS article</description>
		<pubDate>Mon, 10 Oct 2010 12:01:00 GMT</pubDate>


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…

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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