On the surface, RSS seems great for those of us who want to keep up on everything happening on the Internet—and I mean everything. As for me, I use RSS regularly at five minute intervals for pretty much the entire time Im awake. I use RSS for both work and personal reasons—it helps me keep tabs on practically every tech site that matters in order to ensure that Im never missing anything, plus it lets me make sure Im on top of my friends and families lives via their blogs. If not for RSS, I could never keep up on anything. Or would I?
There seems to be an RSS backlash going on, starting this past Spring when a notable article came out pointing out how low the adoption rate has been. Web 2.0 seemed to be the era of more tailored, easily discovered reading content, sharing of said reading material, commenting on it and starting up conversations. Now the vast social networking phenomenon has been usurped by the gated community of Social Networking websites. You’re a member of this, that or the other new up and coming website whose features and interface blow the competition out of the water. Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, all come and go. But underneath it all, there’s the mighty RSS feed, sitting out there waiting to be subscribed to a lowly XML document with updated listings generated each time a new article gets published through a website’s content management system. There’s no obligation implied whatsoever, only the promise like Digital Video Recorders (or TiVO if you prefer) that there’s something new, you know where to find it to watch it later, and if you don’t watch it, you erase it.
In Jacqui Chen’s article she equates RSS to Email, an inbox needing to be cleared. But I ask Ms. Chen and others arguing along the same lines, do you feel obligated to watch every program captured on your DVR? It’s not the same is it. It’s different. I don’t read articles or headlines like email messages. I’ve gotten very accustomed to the ebb and flow of the blog-spammy white paper regurgitating ‘tech news’ websites. I know when 40 articles get dumped wholesale into their RSS feed that they completely misunderstand the value of their RSS feed. And so I treat them with the same level of misunderstanding and wipeout whole swaths of their clock-like dumps. Literally these outfits like C|net, NYTimes, Gawker, Kotaku, etc. will hold onto their content and dump it like huge water tank out into the RSS feed. Why not just do it piecemeal, as things are edited, researched, fact-checked, and released put them into the RSS feed. My reader will catch it when it appears, and who knows I might actually read it, as opposed to have to sift a list of 20 articles that appeared magically at 9:30AM EST.
The problem you see is not in RSS, it’s in the feeds and how they the publishers abuse and disregard the power of the feed. Holding stuff back to dump it all at once is the Old World publishing model, it’s a form of an ‘edition’. Well the printing press doesn’t need to be kept busy running a ‘batch’ of articles until the next batch comes through. And that’s what the RSS feed publishers don’t understand. Piecemeal is way more suited to the New World of publishing, you don’t need to keep the press operators busy doing a whole section of a paper anymore, so don’t hold your articles back in order to dump a huge quantity all at once. This is a River, a River of News and I for one would prefer a constant trickle than a 4 times a day torrent. This is something the Old World Web 2.0 publishers ‘STILL’ do not understand. One can only hope at the next Revolution (say Web 3.0) the publishers finally get it, and let the River of News flow once and for all time.
Also read this response to the orignal Ars Technica article: Sane RSS usage – Marco.org (September 4, 2011)