Much Ado About RSS

I started reading Scoble’s blog recently because he’s an important voice in the tech world and he has a lot of interesting views. Among his favorite technologies are RSS syndication. In the last 48 hours he’s tagged at least 6 posts as RSS and I think there were even more that weren’t. He’s clearly got RSS on the brain.

RSS is a great technology and has certainly changed the way I browse the web. I have been using Bloglines for a couple months now and I am very pleased with it. I rarely visit most of my bookmarked sites now since I subscribe to their RSS feeds. It is an important development and I am glad to see even Microsoft will support it in the future.

Still, I see some flaws in the format. It works great for blogs and other online-only media like News.com, but not as well for traditional media like newspapers. Online media delivers a few stories an hour, allowing users to easily glance over the course of a day. Newspapers are still largely stuck in the deadline world and dump a feed of 20-80 stories at one time a day. Sorting a newspaper chronologically like RSS doesn’t work.

I visited the New York Times website tonight for the first time in a while, since I get its web feed. I noticed three stories that I did not catch when I saw them in Bloglines. It wasn’t because they don’t offer fulltext feeds either. I think some of this has to do with design. RSS is not a very rich format at this point, which is another drawback. I think advertising becomes an issue too, especially since fulltext RSS doesn’t even require a reader to go to the site and see ads.

RSS is a pretty exclusive technology too. At a time when most Internet users struggle to grasp important issues like virus protection or adware, its unlikely they will go out of their way to figure RSS out. Clicking on an orange RSS button loads still loads an XML page in most browsers! How are they supposed to work with that?

I agree that RSS is an important technology, but it has a long way to go. Part of it getting content publishers to rethink the way they put out stories and tailor them to fit the format. On the tech side of things, though, we need to make it easier for users to use RSS. Otherwise, we’ll never be able to get our parents to use feeds.

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