Poll: Is RSS Mainstream?

By Josh Catone
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I have a simple, unscientific test for determining if a web service or product has crossed over into the mainstream: I ask my friends and family — most of whom are not very geeky and generally represent average technology users, in my opinion — if they’re using the service. If they are, then its mainstream. If they’ve at least heard of it, then the service is heading toward the mainstream. Facebook is mainstream. Gmail is mainstream. Twitter is headed in that direction. RSS though, according to my test, is not.

New data that TechCrunch released today, however, suggests that RSS might actually be headed toward the mainstream. TechCrunch, which is one of the most widely read blogs on the Internet, has about 1.4 million RSS subscribers. Two years ago, when that number was much smaller, Firefox, Bloglines, and Newsgator were the three most used RSS readers. Now, though, 38% of TechCrunch readers user Outlook to access the feed — making it the most popular RSS reader for the blog by a wide margin. Google Reader was next, followed by Newsgator and BlogRovR.

That could suggest that RSS is starting to go mainstream, since Outlook is the email client used by a large number of mainstream web users. However, that’s just one blog’s readership. At SitePoint, we’re not seeing that same trend repeated with our admittedly smaller RSS readership. Google Reader is still far and away the most popular RSS reader among SitePoint readers, according to our feed stats, followed by Firefox and Bloglines.

So it could be that TechCrunch has just gained a larger following among corporate users over the past two years, who access the blog at work where Outlook is their only option. Whereas SitePoint tends to attract more freelancers and contract workers who have freedom over what software they use.

Either way, we’d love to here what RSS reader you use, and what readers people are using to access your feed (if you have a blog). Let us know in the comments below and vote in our poll.

[poll id=”10″]

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  • Hannah Valentine

    I know a lot of people that ‘bother’ to visit the same few websites (or many) even though they could easily just use the RSS feed in a reader.

    *However*, there are still a lot of sites that don’t have the full post included in the feed, and that’s just incredibly aggravating to have such a useful tool neutered like that–what’s the point?

  • looking at the usage outside of the techie “bubble” that we all work breath and play in. RSS is sadly just too hard. Hard to understand, hard to subscribe to, hard to remember what it was all about. Nearly all my corporate clients just don’t get RSS at all. It really needs to be universal and automatic working with the corporate desktop. When you click on an email link it just works, the right application is launched etc. Well the same needs to work for RSS, click on the RSS link and it auto subscribes you, you don;t have to do anything else at all. Simple. Until we get to that day over 75% of the corporate world, and into the CEO’s office. RSS is a techie tool. Much like email used to be in the dark days, that I doubt many people will remember ;)

  • jenjen

    I think RSS will be mainstream as an invisible technology. So while it may already be mainstream for site creators in terms of assembling content streams, I don’t think it’s going to penetrate the consciousness of the mainstream of Net users. At least, not before it gets replaced by something else!

  • Bryan White

    RSS is very mainstreamed in terms of system-to-system syndication of content, but not mainstream at all, I think, in terms of consumer adoption. I found the poll options too restrictive to choose reasonably from my point of view.

  • Michael

    Well, all major browsers support RSS so it show be headed into the mainstream direction. Even IE 7 does, something I find is not promoted enough to people – many must think it’s difficult to use or you must use a special program or Google reader or whatever, but in all the browsers now it right there amongst your bookmarks – instead of clicking on that and going to the site, you can now get the latest stuff from the site in a slimed down page!

  • Duki

    I’m in tech but just like most of my clients simply don’t care for RSS. Yet another technology to waste time on and obsessively wait for updates.

    Information overload. Go outside – people, look at the sky, marvel at wind and clouds…stop looking at pixels!

  • Meromo

    Is it ready for mainstream? Let’s see, what happens when I click on the RSS icon I see on this web page?
    “This XML file does not appear to have any style information associated with it. The document tree is shown below.” and a page of gibberish.

    That’s not what something that’s ready for mainstream would do…

  • The problem with the mainstream adoption of RSS is that most people have no idea what it is, or to be precise that it even exists. Even the most user-friendly sites have links like “subscribe to RSS feed” or something like that; I remember some initiative that it gets to be called something like “automatic updates”, but never came out of it.

    General public needs to become aware of the feature, but won’t as long as it’s called “RSS syndication” which sounds like some kind of a high-tech mafia. Browsers need to cater to their less tech-savvy users by providing easy to understand feature like “Get updates to this page automatically” or something similar.

  • Yewtree

    Now that Blogger are (presumably) using it for their “follow this blog” service and other widgets, more people are using it, even though they don’t realise it.

  • basti

    I think RSS is a good way for “PowerUser” to stay up-to-date… but it isn’t mainstream because too many people doesn’t know what RSS is…
    I use RSS with my Opera and can’t live without it…

  • Kate

    my husband who is quite the techy in many ways “doesn’t do” rss. However, he does read his iGoogle page which has numerous news headline plug-ins that he chose. I tell him that’s RSS and he shrugs. He just doesn’t want to bother with a separate reader, I guess.

  • VonSlash

    I myself have never used RSS. Though hearing about it a couple times, I’ve never come across anything that required it’s use or even showed you how to use it. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn about, just haven’t found a purpose yet!

  • RSS is not even remotely mainstream. The main obstacle is that it’s too difficult to subscribe to a feed – even if you are already sold on RSS’s benefits and want to give it a try.

    Meromo is right on the issue:

    Is it ready for mainstream? Let’s see, what happens when I click on the RSS icon I see on this web page?

    It may well be possible to use feeds in IE7’s sidebar but there are just too many potential stumbling blocks when attempting to subscribe by clicking on an RSS icon, depending on the browser. For example, you may get redirected to a Feedburner subscribe page, there could be old RSS software installed on the computer and, worst of all, you might just get the page of XML.

    Increasing adoption inside Outlook would give RSS the best chance of going mainstream. This would circumvent the issues of ‘locked down’ IT policies and old browser versions that can hold back adoption in large organisations and the public sector.

  • My experience is that almost no one knows what RSS is and have no interest in using it. I include RSS feeds for those who might want them, because they’re fairly easy to implement, but I don’t think they’ll ever be mainstream until people don’t even know they’re using them. Right now, they’re way too ‘techy’.

    I can’t say I subscribe to many feeds myself. Mainly for sites I’m occasionally interested in rather than my ‘main’ sites, like sitepoint.

  • glenngould

    Reading through “Magpie Twitter Ad Network” I wonder is Twitter mainstream by the way? A lot more than RSS I guess but what do you think?

  • me

    Lots of people use RSS without even knowing it. My.Yahoo for example has tons of modules driven off of RSS feeds, but my tech-illiterate mother-in-law just knows she can go there to read all things she is interested in.

  • Dallas Peters

    Mac Mail. Werd up. Though with the new NewsGator iPhone app I’m thinking of moving it over to NetNewsWire.