I too am a big believer in RSS. And while I am dipping toes into Facebook and Twitter the bulk of my consumption goes into the big Blogroll I’ve amassed and refined going back to Radio Userland days in 2002.
via Jon Udell
My data belong to me not to the services I decide to participate in. But that’s not how the services do things generally. What would an ideal world look like where I could keep all my personal profile information in one spot and subscribe to services through that hub?
Now social streams have largely eclipsed RSS readers, and the feed reading service I’ve used for years — Bloglines — will soon go dark. Dave Winer thinks the RSS ecosystem could be rebooted, and argues for centralized subscription handling on the next turn of the crank. Of course definitions tend to blur when we talk about centralized versus decentralized services.
Here now, more Uncertainty and Doubt surrounding RSS readers as the future of consuming web pages. I wouldn’t expect this from the one guy I most respect when it comes to future developments in computer technology. I have followed Jon Udell’s shining example each step of the way from Radio Userland to Bloglines. And I breathed deeply the religion of loosely coupled services tied together with ‘services’ like pub/sub or RSS feeds. The flexibility and robustness of not letting a single vendor or purveyor of a free services to me was obvious. However I have fallen prey to the siren song of social media, starting with Digg, Flickr, Google Reader, LinkedIn. Each one claiming some amount of market share, but none of them anticipating the wild popularity of Friendster, MySpace and now Facebook. I actively participate in Facebook to help keep everyone energized and to let them know someone is reading the stuff they post. I want this service to succeed. And by all accounts it’s succeeding beyond its wildest dreams, through advertising revenue.
But who wants to be marketed to? Doc Searles argued rightly our personal information is ours, our ‘attention’ is ours. He wants something like a Vendor Relationship Management service where we keep our ‘profile’ information and dole out the absolute minimum necessary to participate online or do commerce. And Jon in this article uses the elmcity project as a sterling example of how many stovepipe social networks in which we participate. Jon’s work with elmcity is an ongoing attempt to have events be ‘subscribe-enabled’ the way blogs or online news websites are already. Each online calendar program has a web presence, but usually does not have a comparable publication/subscription service like RSS or iCalendar formats associated with them. To ‘really’ know what is going requires a network of event curators who can manage the data feeds that then get plugged into an information hub that aggregates all the events in a geographical region. It’s all loosely coupled and more robust than trying to get everyone to adopt a single calendar.
Which brings us back to the online personal data store, why can’t we have a ‘hub’ that aggregates these ‘services’ we participate in but contain the single source of profile information that we manage and dole out? In that way I’m not hostage to End User Licenses and the attendant risks of letting someone else be my profile steward. Instead I can manage it and let the services subscribe to my hub, and all my ‘data stores’ can exist across all the social networks that exist or may exist. No Lock In. Think about this, I cannot export all the little write-ups and comments on made on headlines I posted in Bloglines. I could export my Blogroll though, using OPML (thanks Dave Winer!) Similarly I won’t ever be able export any of my numerous status updates in Facebook. In fact as near as I can tell there is no Export Button anywhere for anything. It’s like AOL, an internet cul-de-sac that we all willingly participate in, never considering consequences.
Is RSS consumed from a ‘standalone’ RSS reader a evolutionary dead-end for consuming content? Well, what do you think?!
As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year , being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact.. The writing is on the wall.
I don’t know if I agree with the conclusion RSS readers are a form of lock-in. I consider Facebook participation as a form of lock-in as all my quips, photos and posts in that social networking cul-de-sac will never be exported back out again. There’s no way to do it, never ever. With an RSS reader at least my blogroll can easily be exported and imported again using OPML formatted ASCII text. How cool is that in the era of proprietary binary formats (mp4, pdf, doc). No I would say RSS is kind of innately good in and of itself. Enabling technologies are like that and while RSS readers are not the only way to consume or create feeds I haven’t found one of them that couldn’t import my blogroll. Try doing that with Twitter or Facebook (click the don’t like button).