Why RSS feeds will never die

Advantages of RSS feeds over other alternatives.


Countless times I have read on various blogs (I won’t mention any or anyone in particular) that RSS is a dying technology. And not only that, but that the cause of its agony is due to the fact that it’s being overtaken by more “modern” alternatives such as Twitter lists or Facebook pages. And every time I read this I think the same thing: “What a shit!”

I don’t deny that the use of RSS feeds has been declining over the years (especially after the death of Google Reader), but from there to say that it’s “outdated” and that subscriptions via Twitter and Facebook are more “modern” options there is a huge stretch. As huge as from here to Beijing.

If RSS feeds haven’t become extinct despite constant attempts to sell smoke with claims like that, it’s because they have a number of advantages over any so-called “alternative” that currently exists, advantages that I can bet will keep it hanging around us for a long, long time —even longer than those such alternatives—, no matter how many people insist on wanting to kill it.

Here there are a few of them:

1. it’s a free standard

Unlike Twitter and Facebook, which are proprietary and with a very closed philosophy, RSS is a free standard that is not at the mercy of the decisions of those chaotic companies, which allows its use by anyone and for anything, without need of being accountable to anyone, and being able to export subscriptions between different readers with total freedom.

2. it’s included by default in the vast majority of CMS

A direct consequence of the previous point is that almost all CMS implement it by default. In fact, it’s very rare to find a site that doesn’t have an RSS feed except those that run under independent CMS whose developers have not bothered to prepare one.

Apart from that, any site that runs on WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, Joomla!, etc., which already represent almost all the websites on the planet, have a ready and functional RSS feed without the administrators having to do anything and even without even knowing what it is.

On the contrary, those who prefer to use the Twitter lists or Facebook pages will have to wait; first, that the administrator has created an account on some of those sites; second, that this account is on the network they use (there are some who use Facebook and not Twitter, or vice versa; and whoever uses both will probably end up with the subscriptions split between them); and third, that they update it, because it’s not unusual to find someone who created an account on social networks for their site and left it there lost in oblivion.

Here it’s worth making an observation: those sites that have accounts in social networks and update them frequently don’t usually do it manually, but automatically by connecting these accounts with… guess what? The RSS feed. Point for the feeds.

3. You don’t need to have an account anywhere to use it

Again derived from the previous two aspects is the matter that to use an RSS feed you don’t need to have an account anywhere, and neither to implement them on your site or to read the feeds of other sites. Although the most popular feed reader today is [Feedly] (http://feedly.com), which requires registration, there are countless readers that don’t need it and that you only need to install either on your PC or on your phone or tablet. In addition, there is something for all tastes and requirements, and they are not chained to absurd restrictions of proprietary APIs that can “turn off the tap” at any moment.

4. You don’t have to enter each site to read the articles

A point where you can see the difference between a product that is made with one purpose in mind and another that only has it as an addition.

The main attribute granted by RSS readers is to allow the user to read all their favorite sites from the same interface, without having to enter them one by one. These interfaces are also usually clean, light, and specially designed for reading; even allowing you to customize fonts, colors, and other aspects to make them even more pleasant.

On the contrary, if you follow the sites on social networks, you will have to click the links and enter each one independently, probably ending up with a good number of open tabs and RAM consumption through the roof; in addition to hoping that the owner of the site has hired a good designer who has not left it with a font style that attacks the eyes or loaded with stuff and advertising everywhere.

5. You will never miss any news

The problem with social networks, and that I have already alluded to a couple of times, is that they are very fleeting. If you weren’t there when a story came out, and if it isn’t retweeted or shared in the future, you will have missed it forever, especially if you are an avid reader who follows dozens or even hundreds of sites.

With RSS readers that doesn’t happen. Every time a new article is published, the reader archives it and leaves it there waiting for you to read it. It can be hours, days, weeks, months or even years later, the article will still be there and you just have to navigate to it to read it.

6. Greater cleanliness in the flow of updates

The above statement couldn’t be understood without these two that follow. Perhaps someone makes the observation that in social networks the content doesn’t disappear either. Unless the author deletes the update, you can always go to their profile and search for it. Yes, but another problem with social media is that there is often a lot of “noise” in updates.

Except for sites that have exclusive accounts to share their articles, most of them usually publish everything on their profiles (another aspect that shows that the purpose of social networks is not the same as that of readers); and even those who do have exclusive accounts for it tend to share the same content several times in order to give it more publicity.

The result is a much dirtier shadow of a feed than the one you would get with a real one, and where you will easily get saturated with information that doesn’t interest you while trying to filter the one you are looking for.

7. Better content classification

For those of us who follow a large number of blogs (I’m currently subscribed to 128), the help that readers provide by allowing us to keep all that content properly organized is appreciable.

In the case of Feedly, it allows you to classify the feeds by categories and read either the general feed, the category feed or that of each particular site, all in an intuitive way and with the light and fast navigation that characterizes RSS readers.

On the contrary, on social networks, browsing through lists and profiles is more bothersome and never gives a remotely comparable feeling of comfort.

8. It’s easier to use

This point could perfectly summarize all the previous ones, and it’s one that apparently no one has understood or made understood: RSS feeds are very easy to use.

There’s an unfounded belief that to subscribe to a site’s feed you have to look for the address of that feed —which with the fall in popularity some designers no longer leave visible—, but this is not the case. Feed readers have been able to allow subscriptions for many years simply by entering the site’s domain.

For example, to subscribe to this blog in Feedly, all you would have to do would be to log into your account, click on “Add content”, write or paste the address (manueldelafuente.com), and voilá, you are subscribed. What’s the difficulty in it?

Google Reader was the same and almost all RSS readers are like that too. And for someone who has few subscriptions the procedure would end here, it’s not even necessary to categorize them since the client adds the sites to the sidebar and it’s very easy to jump from one to another with a click. In addition to all the advantages already mentioned, what you get is a comfort and ease for reading that no social network offers until now.

9. Added functionalities

Once again another point that makes the difference between a product designed specifically for reading sites and another whose essential purpose is a different one. Although it varies from reader to reader, they can offer extra functionalities designed to make reading more comfortable, such as the aforementioned adapted and customizable interfaces, integration with services such as Readability and Instapaper (in the case of Feedly), option to send to Pocket or share on multiple social networks (and not just tied to a particular one), synchronization of your feeds between web, PC, and mobile, and the option to export to other readers, among many others.

So if RSS is so good, why is it said to be dying?

After all this, the logical questions that spring to mind are: If RSS feeds are so superior, why is their use decreasing? Why are there those who insist on “killing” them? Why do few know about them outside of the tech community?

The answer is actually quite simple: It’s not a problem of RSS, it’s a problem of the clients. RSS is fine, what happens is that so far no RSS client has been able to make the general public see the many advantages of this technology. No one has known how to sell it as a simple, comfortable and avant-garde product; on the contrary, although at a level of usability and functions they aren’t bad at all, with their old designs and zero marketing what they have achieved is to give RSS that false stigma of old-fashioned, rare, and complicated that it currently carries.

In fact, those who criticize RSS for precisely these reasons don’t have a problem with the format itself, it’s just that they haven’t found a client that has made them change their mind.

Google, who had the best chance of achieving it with its Reader, never cared about it, never gave it any priority, never promoted it or tried to turn it into a “breakthrough” product characteristic of them; they just abandoned it and stripped it of features until making it disappear. Feedly, its current spiritual successor, has made some memorable efforts but has yet to find the right formula from my point of view.

The day someone succeeds, RSS will regain its deserved place as the excellent product that it is. And I’m sure not only that that day will come, but that RSS will live to see it; although I’m not so sure about Twitter and Facebook.

Join the Discussion on Social Media

Up Next

I'm back 3: Rise of Jekyll

Welcome to yet another sequel in this blogging franchise.

Record of an installation: Ubuntu 12.04 Minimal + Cinnamon 2

Installing Ubuntu 12.04 LTS Netinstall edition with the Cinnamon 2 desktop, step by step.