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Death knell sounds for RSS, and Google knows it

CNET columnist Ben Parr contends that there is no place for RSS in the modern era of consumption.

Ben Parr
Ben Parr is co-founder of #DominateFund, an early-stage venture capital fund; a CNET commentator; and the former co-editor of Mashable.
Ben Parr
3 min read
In a few years, RSS will be a distant memory. Ben Parr / CNET

Like some of you, I was once a power user of Google Reader. I needed it to do my job. But as Twitter started to gain steam, I started checking it less and less. It was less a pleasure and more a chore.

And then suddenly, I just stopped. I created a Twitter account to track tech news, and I never looked back.

I'm fascinated by the outcry resulting from the news that Google is shutting down Reader. The backlash shouldn't surprise anybody: Reader's power users consist primarily of hard-core bloggers, who were obviously going to complain (publicly) about the loss of their precious reader.

I feel your pain. I really do. But Google's right: it's time to rip off the Band-Aid and abandon RSS.

RSS, while incredible for power users, suffers from three major problems:

  • Usability issues: Your mom may be able to use a Facebook or Twitter account, but she probably never was able to get into RSS. "Following" your favorite blogs required going to hundreds of different sites and importing them into an RSS reader, which didn't always work. Then it required looking at content in an unformatted, e-mail-like interface. I don't know about you, but I don't want to check another e-mail in-box.
  • Lack of mainstream adoption: Twitter acquired mainstream adoption because following was a simple as typing in a username and clicking "follow." Once Twitter took off, it was game over for RSS. All that remain are power users, and that doesn't constitute a business.
  • Rise of better alternatives: All of your favorite publications are on Twitter and Facebook. And in case that wasn't enough, apps like Flipboard (which relies more on social feeds than RSS) are simply a better experience for consuming content.

I actually think Twitter is a more effective way to consume content in a world that produced 1.93 trillion gigabytes of data in 2011 and is expected to hit 7.9 trillion gigabytes in 2015. RSS readers work when trying to consume 20 to 30 blogs, but try sticking 300 in Google Reader and you'll cry yourself to sleep.

Twitter and Facebook, by contrast, are built for modern consumption habits. It's OK to miss content, because the most important stuff will bubble to the top, thanks to retweets and News Feed's algorithms. And some of the world's best content no longer appears in blog posts -- it is instead encapsulated in witty 140-character comments. With RSS readers, you felt like you were missing out if you clicked "Marked as Read."

I suspect RSS will continue to experience a slow death. Yes, people are going to complain and alternatives will be set up. But in the end there is no place for RSS in the modern world. Google realized this.

I suspect that sites will begin to abandon their RSS feeds over the next few years, especially as RSS providers like Google's FeedBurner are put to pasture. It can be painful to lose an old friend, but I suggest abandoning RSS sooner rather than later because Google Reader's demise is the beginning of the end.