RSS Readers Dead? And What about the Info Flows?

September 13, 2010 is an unlikely service to become a harbinger of change in content. Some folks don’t agree with this statement. For example, read “The Death Of The RSS Reader.” The main idea is that:

There have been predictions since at least 2006, when Pluck shut its RSS reader down that “consumer RSS readers” were a dead market, because, as ReadWriteWeb wrote then, they were “rapidly becoming commodities,” as RSS reading capabilities were integrated into other products like e-mail applications and browsers. And, indeed, a number of consumer-oriented RSS readers, including News Alloy, Rojo, and News Gator, shut down in recent years.

The reason is that users are turning to social services like Facebook and Twitter to keep up with what’s hot, important, newsy, and relevant.


An autumn forest. Death or respite before rebirth?

I don’t dispute that for many folks the RSS boom has had its sound dissipate. However, there are several factors operating that help me understand why the RSS reader has lost its appeal for most Web users. Our work suggest these factors are operating:

  1. RSS set up and management cause the same problems that the original Pointcast, Backweb, and Desktop Data created. There is too much for the average user to do and then too much on going maintenance required to keep the services useful.
  2. The RSS stream outputs a lot of baloney along with the occasional chunk of sirloin. We have coded our own system to manage information on the topics that interest the goose. Most folks don’t want this type of control. After some experience with RSS, my hunch is that many users find them too much work and just abandon them. End users and consumers are not too keen on doing repetitive work that keeps them from kicking back and playing Farmville or keeping track of their friends.
  3. The volume of information in itself is one part of the problem. The high value content moves around, so plugging into a blog today is guarantee that the content source will be consistent, on topic, or rich with information tomorrow. We have learned that lack of follow through by the creators of content creators is an issue. Publishers know how to make content. Dabblers don’t. The problem is that publishers can’t generate big money so their enthusiasm seems to come and go. Individuals are just individuals and a sick child can cause a blog writer to find better uses for any available time.

The problem is that these problems and those identified in the “Death” article citied above are not tackling a particular important aspect of the RSS story. Confusing consumer behavior which seeks the path of least resistance to need satisfaction and the challenge of big data content streams looks at one aspect of the “info flow” challenge. Tool failure is not a signal that the info flows are tamed or manageable.

I don’t want to try and get a dead horse to trot, but I think it is important to point out that processing streams of content is a growing business for some vendors. The problem is that the vendors tackling the need are not visible due to the noise about Facebook, Twitter, and other social information services such as

Maybe there is a need for a different way to keep track for intelligence purposes the types of content that helped kill RSS readers and the new services springing up to deal with the info flows that continue? Social curation and recommendations by “friends” do not solve the problem. For some, the loss of a tool means that there is no issue. I don’t agree. The RSS reader and its decline underscore a larger opportunity.

Stephen E Arnold, September 13, 2010


One Response to “RSS Readers Dead? And What about the Info Flows?”

  1. iyinet frmtr seo on September 15th, 2010 6:08 am

    Thank you very much for this article!

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