So I recently read an article about the death of RSS after Martin Pickett linked to it on Twitter. It’s an interesting article and one I pretty much agree wholeheartedly with but a few things came to mind while reading it.
Firstly the idea that Twitter or Facebook will replace RSS is, as the article says, certainly very worrying. As a big fan of RSS I’m fairly confident I won’t ever be using Twitter or Facebook to follow the websites I currently follow in Google Reader but I’m not sure about other members of my family.
Firstly there is my Mum. She is well out of the 3% - 7% of users that Mozilla claim use the RSS button on the toolbar. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have a clue about what RSS is and she isn’t really that interested. She doesn’t check enough websites to really have any benefit in using RSS, after all, all the important stuff is in newspapers and on the news at 10 right?
Then there is my Dad. He is more clued up and I’m fairly certain he has heard about RSS though I’m not sure he actually uses it but that’s more because he doesn’t follow anything on it. Mainly due to lack of time - he ends up checking his emails last thing at night before he goes to sleep and that’s about as much time as he spends on his computer when not at work on an average night. He may use RSS at work but I don’t think so. His company only seems to like technology with a buzzword and RSS never got popular enough to really become a buzzword.
Finally there are my sisters - both moderately tech savvy but certainly not power users. I’m also 95% sure neither of them use RSS either. One gets news from newspapers, one gets it by word of mouth from her friends and through the news.
Now to come back to the idea of Twitter/Facebook replacing RSS. None of the other members of my family have any interest in getting a Twitter account. Despite me having explained it several times to them they still don’t see the point and think it’s largely full of people ‘twitting’ about what they are doing or eating every five minutes. I’ve given up on selling it to them - I’m certain that if they did understand it’s raison d’être they still wouldn’t use it.
Facebook however is possibly more of a worry. Three of the four of them have Facebook accounts, though Dad has only just really started using his now he’s found out how to upload photos to it. I still don’t really see Facebook being somewhere any of them go to follow websites though. Granted this is largely because they don’t seem to have a need for RSS at the moment but more because they all still see Facebook as it was two years ago - a website for socialising with your friends, not some sellout corporate whore of a site which just wants to farm as much information out of you as fast as possible so it can sell your life for a quick buck all while keeping you entertained running the lastest ‘Ville game while your brain turns to goo and drips out of your ears.
I think that while the article is right in that RSS isn’t getting enough support from browser manufacturers (I wonder if this could be fixed using a Google Chrome extension - I’ve already added one to put the subscribe to RSS button back into my location bar) the idea of RSS being replaced by Facebook or Twitter isn’t that worrying to me - techie people know RSS is there and will continue to use it even if they do have to delve into the source code of a page to get to the feed url and non-techie people don’t (yet) see Facebook or Twitter as URL services - they are still social networking sites where you chat and share things with friends and as these sites don’t want to change that.
Despite Facebook adding Like buttons to absolutely everything they don’t really want you Liking a website so you find out what new stuff they post on the web, they want you to use the rest of their service - if they only wanted to find out what websites you visit regularly they’d just build a social browser and harvest the data through that. No, to provide the complete profile of a user they need as much information as possible which means users have to ‘like’ things because they actually like them, not because that tells them when websites update otherwise the metaphor breaks and users won’t know why they should like things that aren’t websites, after all, ice cream flavours won’t be posting new articles will they?
In summary I guess I agree that RSS is massively underutilised by the browser manufacturers and deserves a much higher place in how we view the web and I expect that if anyone provides this then it’ll be Mozilla with Firefox. Google want you to visit sites - then you see more adverts, and Microsoft are still too busy trying to make a browser that doesn’t completely suck and might be vaguely competative. Safari isn’t cross platform enough - it might run on Windows but even the Apple fans I know admit it’s full of bloat on Windows and then that leaves Opera who seem to play their own game and come up with cool things every once in a while but can largely be ignored.
It’ll certainly be nice to see someone improve RSS and the replies from Asa Dotzler that are quoted in the original post seem to imply Mozilla are still thinking about it and talking about how to use it in the next version of Firefox which has to be better than nothing but who knows when it gets to the fully integrated dream scenario that is mentioned in the original post. We can dream…