When blogs emerged out of the basement to become a cultural force, they brought an accompanying technology along with them. RSS (which stands for Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary, depending on who you ask) held the promise that every citizen could, for free, build their own customized newspaper comprised only of the sources and topics that interested them.
Do you love whippets, the Whitecaps and Whitney Houston? No problem. You can subscribe to newspaper and magazines sites, blogs and search alerts for those topics and never miss a story.
My friends at Common Craft made a video back in 2007 advocating for a customized news future:
RSS was a big deal for a while. Back in 2005, it was a key part of Microsoft’s browser strategy. There were several prominent start-ups who produced RSS readers, only to be eclipsed by Google’s offerings. Lots of technology pundits were convinced that it would usher in a new phase of customized news. Others worried that it would create a million echo chambers, where people would only read news about topics they cared about.
Though it’s an important part of Internet plumbing, RSS never really caught on among Normal Humans.
We prefer to be spoon-fed
I was discussing this today, and more than one person suggested that RSS got broadsided by social sharing. That is, that link and news sharing by peers on Facebook and Twitter replaced RSS. There’s some merit to this theory. My own Google Reader usage has declined a bit thanks to time spent on social media tools.
Another possibility? Site publishers, whether newspaper magnates or niche bloggers, want people to visit their sites. They want more page views to increase their advertising revenue, and ads in RSS never really took off. As such, the very people who should have been RSS’s evangelists felt pretty chilly toward the technology.
Ultimately, though, I think RSS was just too much work. I don’t mean to sound misanthropic, but the average person prefers to be spoon-fed.
The irony is that when I’m giving talks and workshops, people often ask me some variation of “how do I keep up with all these blogs and news sites and keyword searches I’m supposed to be monitoring?” The answer, which is usually followed by a demo of Google Reader, is RSS.
I don’t have much to say about them yet, but I’m interested to see whether algorithmic, curatorial tools like Summify or Percolate will replace news readers for those of us who use them. I’ve got an account on both, but haven’t had time to seriously kick the tires yet. Do you use either tool, or one like it?