RSS readers

Read/WriteWeb has an interesting piece on RSS aggregators, and whether they really matter any more:

One of the interesting trends of 2009 has been the gradual decline of RSS Readers as a way for people to keep up with news and niche topics. Many of us still use them, but less than we used to. I for one still maintain a Google Reader account, however I don’t check it on a daily basis. I check Twitter for news and information multiple times a day, I monitor Twitter lists, and I read a number of blogs across a set of topics of most interest to me.

Ross Mayfield, head honcho of enterprise collaboration platform Socialtext, picks up on it:

We all know that Twitter cannibalized RSS Reader habits with something simpler and social. And innovation happened elsewhere for aggregation with simple focused things like Techmeme. And that enterprise RSS innovation moved away from clients. But iGoogle and Netvibes widgets as Twitter clients were developed by third parties. Perhaps it was innovator’s dilemma on a compressed scale, but the Readers didn’t expand what could be read.

I was thinking about this the other day, when, randomly, I checked into Bloglines for the first time in literally years. Bloglines was the first RSS reader I ever used – it was the RSS reader I used when I didn’t know what an RSS reader was.

It was awful, and hadn’t seemed to have been updated since 2004 when I used it regularly. I use Google Reader these days, like most people I suspect. Well, most of the people who use these things at all.

I like what Dave Winer has to say about this. RSS readers are about news:

News. Stuff that’s new. When you want to find out what’s new you don’t want to know everything, you can’t. The world is too big. There’s too much happening. If you were to get a true readout of the number of stories you didn’t read, just today, it would number in the millions. It’s a pointless number. As if it would mean anything if you got the number to be zero. All it would mean is that you spent every waking moment reading, and you had no idea what any of it meant. It wouldn’t make you smarter, happier, worth more, have more friends, get laid more often, go to heaven or become a saint. Reading every story is a meaningless concept.

It’s like Twitter, or any any other social media stream: You don’t have to read it all.

I check my Google Reader several times a day. When I’m drifting, struggling to concentrate on something, I find it a really good way to tune back in again, to read something thoughtful that gets me thinking.

It’s also a great source of new ideas. Twitter is good for that, but it uses up too much clicking to get through to stuff. People say that Twitter is better because of the trust thing. But I trust the people whose blogs I subscribe to – that’s why I subscribe to them.

Maybe the reason why I’m still a heavy user of an RSS reader – I think blogs matter and like them. I like to have the ones I consider good and useful easily accessible, and the reader does that for me.

5 thoughts on “RSS readers”

  1. I’m definately with you on this one, Dave. iGoogle is an integral part of both my personal reading habits and also my work. I shudder to think of a time I would sequentially visit websites to trawl through articles when having it delivered to me via the medium of RSS is far more convenient. It is a more succinct and easily digestible way of gathering news from the web and, in my opinion, is in no way comparable to the smorgasboard of potential information overload that is Twitter. They’re two completely different beasts.

  2. Always insightful posts Dave, your comment “you don’t have to read it all” sums it up. Does that then mean that tools and techniques that help “make sense of it all” will be those that don’t replace RSS but actually make the best use of it?

    In our open data mashup project, we would be stuck without RSS (and often are when people send us PDFs with spreadsheets inside them!). Similarly data visualisation often rely on RSS or other feeds. Maybe the techies need to focus on the quality of creating RSS feeds so that the rest of us can use the tools above?

  3. I’m with Noel on this one. How many and twitter accounts are driven by RSS feeds? Lots. Maybe it’s being replaced as a reader technology, but it’s still very useful for enabling cooperation.

  4. What RSS needs is a priority setting.
    Some attribute the blogger can set from 0.0 to 1.0 giving it more relevance or less.
    Or maybe some google-style weighing of the content… something that lets you see what’s more important, so if you want to read everything, fine, but if you’re in a hurry, you can check the most important stuff.

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