The Death of the RSS Reader: Another Debate That Needs to End!
It’s rather interesting to see how, over the course of the years, every so often, we seem to come back, time and time again, to some good old debates that perhaps we should have left behind for good, since we don’t seem to have made lots of progress over time. Just recently we have seen the one about the generations at work and the generational divide. Last week we saw it come back again with the Death of the RSS Reader debate, where a bunch of people stated, very adamantly, how the days of RSS feed reading are numbered and how we ought to be moving to something else. In this case, social networking sites, which is where we seem to be living nowadays by the looks of it. But, are RSS feeds really dead? Are we no longer using RSS feed readers on a daily basis as we used to? Have we abandoned them all to their own fortune and don’t look back? No. We haven’t. We have just changed, slightly, our consumption habits. To me, RSS feeds are move alive today than ever! And all of that, thanks to … email!! Yes, who would have thought about that, right?
It all started with the recent announcement of BlogLines going offline on October 1st and which last week made the tech news highlights for quite a bit. From there onwards, the conversation moved into stating that now that RSS feed readers are dying out a slow, but painful death, RSS feed reading will vanish as well altogether! Really? Do you think so? Really? I don’t think so! Otherwise, how are we going to consume Web content from multiple resources at the same time? I mean, are we going back towards just having 5 to 10 Web site Homepages open here and there and hit refresh constantly? Of course, not! Who would still do that nowadays? There are smarter ways of getting the information you need.
Who would just spend such a huge amount of time trying to catch up with things as they happen by having multiple Web sites open? Probably not many people, specially when those favourite links make up for total numbers in the several dozens or hundreds! It’d be almost impossible to catch up with! Stowe Boyd put together a rather interesting and thought provoking read where he stated the problem we seem to have been having with RSS feed reading all along. It surely is quite a good read, as it certainly highlights some of the various issues at play. Mainly, the fact that RSS feed readers are not integrated fully enough into people’s daily workflows, as far as how they consume their news items. And also how RSS feed readers and RSS feed reading, in general, haven’t evolved enough to provide new ways of digesting all of that content outside of the traditional concept of the Inbox.
Like I said, a great read that would help you understand what some of the potential issues are. I agree with him that RSS feeds have never been popular amongst our 2.0 habits, as we have always found it difficult to, yet again, check out another Inbox that doesn’t touch base, really, with what we do on a daily basis. However, he mentions how it looks like we have now turned into our various social networking sites to grab and digest that content as it comes across to us, pre-filtered collaboratively already by those very same networks, as part of the information flow. So it looks like we are ditching RSS feeds for social networking sites.
That’s quite an interesting thought. And I would agree with it to a certain degree, after all, Twitter has become for me what I have been calling my dynamic RSS feed reader of choice, but with that same rule, what we would then need to realise is that we are no longer having a debate about our RSS feed reading habits, but more about how some of the applications we used for that activity didn’t really meet our needs in the first place. And still don’t. Instead, we try to make the most out of our social networks. So, it looks like they are going to be our next RSS feeds eventually. If not already. Well, nothing further than the truth, to be honest. And here is why…
RSS feed readers still are rather cumbersome to make use of; as a starting point, most people don’t even get what RSS is all about. They find its explanation and definition far too complex to digest, and hugely prohibiting to make use of it fully. So eventually most people are turning back to what they are more comfortable with in the first place. Still today. Of course, I’m talking about … email! Let’s not forget: what’s the number #1 tool that we still use today to keep up with what’s happening inside our networks? It’s not the various desktop clients that I use to other social tools. It’s not the various networks that we all hang out at on a regular basis. It’s actually still our email clients where we keep receiving, more and more by the day, the various different notifications of activities that are going on inside our networks. That’s where our RSS feed reading is happening today! Right inside our Inboxes!
And, I am sure that at this point in time you are thinking how ironic for someone like myself, who is living “A World Without Email“, to eventually state something like that so categorically! Well, it’s not ironic, folks; it’s just all about taking email back to what it was designed for over 4 decades ago: a messaging and notification system of content that is stored elsewhere! And that, not sure what you would think about it, is what RSS feeds are all about: i.e. providing you with an opportunity to grab the content you need from the resources and networks you curate and nurture to help you stay informed and get the job done at the same time, but always following your knowledge flow!
And where does that knowledge flow happen? … Exactly! Right inside your Inbox! Welcome to the fabulous world of BACN!
RSS feed readers will come and go; just like with any other Internet (social) tool available out there. We have seen that happening for years, and plenty more to come!, specially if those tools are not capable of evolving accordingly to meet our current needs. However, that’s not where our focus should be. Our focus should be on the behaviours; on the task at hand; on building the good habit of ensuring people understand and comprehend fully, so they can adopt it successfully, key concepts like aggregation of relevant content or subscribing to the content that matters to them. Regardless of where it may well be: rather on Web sites, or social networks or even their mailboxes!
That’s where the key challenge and the debate should be happening, in my opinion. Yes, we all get to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. etc. to grab our feeds nowadays, but have you ever thought what would happen if one of these days any of those social networking sites disappears altogether without leaving a trace and without allowing you to make a backup copy? Gone! Zipped! Nada! Nothing! What would you do to keep up with your aggregation and subscription needs? How are you going to supply them? Well, with the easiest RSS Feed Reader ever designed for us all: email!
That’s right! To me, that’s the lowest common denominator that still tells me that RSS feed reading, as a social networking activity, is today healthier than ever. That habit of subscribing to updates happening in our networks is slowly, but steadily, turning our Inboxes into the next generation of RSS feed reading. And it surely is quite interesting to think along those lines, when email has been with us for over 40 years. Looks like we are reinventing ourselves, once again, and, at the same pace, we are reinventing our very own habits of how we would want to consume relevant Web resources that would matter to each and everyone of us without going crazy with the attempt.
Do I still use RSS Feeds personally? Have I given up altogether on RSS feed reading? Well, no. Not at all! Right at the moment that I am putting together this blog entry I’m currently using about 6 different feed readers: two of them mobile and the other four on my Mac. A good combination of both online and offline feed reading I have learned to grow over time load balancing what are essential key resources for me, and those others I know I will eventually come around them at some point. And, if I don’t, that wouldn’t worry me much either, because if it is something that I really needed, it would eventually come around to me. Are you still obssesed with keeping your Unread Marks down to zero?
That’s, essentially, the shift that we are going to see with our very own RSS feeds consumption habits: how we are no longer going out there to hunt down for the content stored in our feed readers, but more that very same content is going to be presented to us, pre-filtered collaboratively by whatever the filtering mechanisms (Human or not!), through those tools we feel the most comfortable with at the moment: for some folks it would be Facebook, for others it would be LinkedIn, for me (And plenty others, I am sure!) it would be Twitter, and for the vast majority the place where they all still live: their mailbox!
Finally, another interesting part of this so-called debate is, if we are all rather keen on relying on our social networks to provide us with those feeds and whatever other interesting Web reads, because that’s where we are going to spend more and more time, how we are going to possibly manage it all in such a way that we can draw some sense into it without going crazy? I mean, how are people going to have access to those critical resources when your networks may not be there ready for you? Because, whether we like it or not, that’s going to happen at some point in time? … Sooner or later, it’s going to hit us, whether we like it or not. And that’s, on its own, the whole use case for having your favourite RSS feed reader (Whatever that may well be!) at hand, so you can add it to your existing Personal Knowledge Management tools suite (and strategy!) you just can’t live without, even when you are offline, in a plane, for the next 9 hours! Where will your networks be when you are offline for an extended period of time? Think about it… You may as well need to have a good solid backup plan, or Plan B: your RSS feed reader of choice!
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