How and Why RSS is Alive and Well

This post was first published on the Idealware Blog in September of 2009.

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Image: SRD

RSS, one of my favorite protocols, has been taking a beating in the blogosphere. Steve Gillmor, in his blog TechcrunchIT, declared it dead in May, and many others have followed suit.

Did Twitter Kill it?

The popular theory is that, with social networks like Twitter and Facebook serving as link referral tools, there’s no need to setup and look at feeds in a reader anymore. And I agree that many people will forgo RSS in favor of the links that their friends and mentors tweet and share. But this is kind of like saying that, if more people shop at farmer’s markets than supermarkets, we will no longer need trucks. Dave Winer, quite arguably the founder of RSS, and our friends at ReadWriteWeb have leapt to RSS’s defense with similar points – Winer puts it best, saying:

“These protocols…are so deeply ingrained in the infrastructure they become part of the fabric of the Internet. They don’t die, they don’t rest in piece.”

My arguments for the defense:

1. RSS is, and always has been about, taking control of the information you peruse. Instead of searching, browsing, and otherwise separating a little wheat from a load of chaff, you use RSS to subscribe to the content that you have vetted as pertinent to your interests and needs. While that might cross-over a bit with what your friends want to share on Facebook, it’s you determining the importance, not your friends. For a number of us, who use the internet for research; brand monitoring; or other explicit purposes, a good RSS Reader will still offer the best productivity boost out there.

2. Where do you think your friends get those links? It’s highly likely that most of them — before the retweets and the sharing — grabbed them from an RSS feed. I post links on Twitter and Facebook, and I get most of them from my Google Reader flow.

3. It’s not the water, it’s the pipe. The majority of those links referred by Twitter are fed into Twitter via RSS. Twitterfeed, the most popular tool for feeding RSS data to Twitter, boasts about half a million feeds. Facebook, Friendfeed and their ilk all allow importing from RSS sources to profiles.

So, here are some of the ways I use RSS every day:

Basic Aggregation with Drupal

My first big RSS experiment built on the nptech tagging phenomenon. Some background: About five years ago, with the advent of RSS-enabled websites that allowed for storing and tagging information (such as Delicious, Flickr and most blogging platforms), Techsoup CEO Marnie Webb had a bright idea. She started tagging articles, blog posts, and other content pertinent to those working in or with nonprofits and technology with the tag “nptech”. She invited her friends to do the same. And she shared with everyone her tips for setting up an RSS newsreader and subscribing to things marked with our tag. Marnie and I had lunch in late 2005 and agreed that the next step was to set up a web site that aggregated all of this information. So I put up the nptech.info site, which continues to pull nptech-tagged blog entries from around the web.

Other Tricks

Recently, I used Twitterfeed to push the nptech aggregated information to the nptechinfo Twitter account. So, if you don’t like RSS, you can still get the links via Twitter. But stay aware that they get there via RSS!

I use RSS to track Idealware comments, Idealware mentions on Twitter, and I subscribe to the blog, of course, so I can see what my friends are saying.

I use RSS on my personal website to do some lifestreaming, pulling in Tweets and my Google Reader favorites.

But I’m pretty dull — what’s more exciting is the way that Google Reader let me create a “bundle” of all of the nptech blogs that I follow. You can sample a bunch of great Idealware-sympatico bloggers just by adding it to your reader.

Is RSS dead? Not around here.

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2 thoughts on “How and Why RSS is Alive and Well

  1. Timo Luege

    I wrote a blog post last week about “Why RSS -> Facebook is bad for you”. Since this is loosely related to this post, I thought I’d share the URL: http://sm4good.com/2009/10/06/why-rss-to-facebook-is-bad-for-you/
    It’d be great if you found the time to share your opinion on the matter.

    I’m not a great friend of RSS -> Twitter either. A lot of the headlines of my day job’s site (http://www.ifrc.org) don’t fit the Twitter format well. And I prefer to rewrite them manually and attach hashtags.

    1. Peter Campbell Post author

      I think that’s a pretty valuable point that my gushing over the automation missed: why it is often a good idea not to automate via RSS. For Facebook, I do it two ways: For most of my Idealware posts, I use the Facebook Selective Twitter Status app so that I can announce the post to my status as well as Twitter. For the ones that i think are of particular interest to my Facebook audience (which has a lot more friends and family than my twitter stream, largely nptech), I do a wall post. I would never consider feeding it to my notes, partially because I think that’s too obscure to be useful, and mainly because I don’t want to publish my blog on Facebook (I do full text RSS, not teasers). i don’t trust that Facebook will agree that i own my content if I actually publish it there. Similarly, while I have twitterfeed automating posts to my @techcafeteria and @nptechinfo accounts, I don’t automate anything that goes to @peterscampbell. I want to have a personal presence on Twitter, and I like to explain why I’m posting a link, not just post it.

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