The Rise and Demise of RSS

The Rise and Demise of RSS

There are two stories here. The first is a story about a vision of the web’s future that never quite came to fruition. The second is a story about how a collaborative effort to improve a popular standard devolved into one of the most contentious forks in the history of open-source software development. It is also a fascinating read about the history and development of RSS.

RSS was one of the standards that promised to deliver this syndicated future. To Werbach, RSS was “the leading example of a lightweight syndication protocol.” Another contemporaneous article called RSS the first protocol to realize the potential of XML.4 It was going to be a way for both users and content aggregators to create their own customized channels out of everything the web had to offer.

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was. Lots of people have offered explanations for why RSS lost its broad appeal. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation is exactly the one offered by Gillmor in 2009. Social networks, just like RSS, provide a feed featuring all the latest news on the internet. Social networks took over from RSS because they were simply better feeds (Except they're not as they are limited to one social network's view/algorithm of the world which they rank).

But syndication on the web only happens through one of a very small number of channels, meaning that none of us “retain control over our online personae” the way that Werbach thought we would. One reason this happened is garden-variety corporate rapaciousness — RSS, an open format, didn’t give technology companies the control over data and eyeballs that they needed to sell ads, so they did not support it. But the more mundane reason is that centralized silos are just easier to design than common standards.

Yep, I think some companies don't like RSS as it tends to provide a view without the ads... For me personally, I still love (and use daily) a cloud-based RSS reader to scan over 200 feed sources. I get all the raw feeds which I can scan quickly and not just what Facebook, G+ or a single source wants to show me. I can synchronise my reading progress across desktop and mobile clients, and save to Pocket for later reading. I tend to move between using InoReader and Feedly as my RSS readers. You can follow an RSS feed of all my posts at



The Rise and Demise of RSS
An unabridged history of RSS' triumphs and failures.

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