The failure of RSS readers

There have been a few challenges out there to the idea that people will consume more content in the future because of RSS.  Some of the arguments are:
  • Only info junkies want more content
  • Most people will only track a limited set of news sources, probably no more than 5
  • RSS adoption is pretty darn slow compared to other media technologies in the past
  • Nobody knows what RSS is...or cares once they do know
  • The RSS readers like Bloglines and NewsGator still don’t have mass appeal
  • Mr. Joe Average won’t ever see the value in consuming information this way

I typically argue that these problems are a function of the reader tools which are incapable of serving both info junkies and the other 95% of the world simultaneously.  But I also have a hard time seeing what kind of functionality Bloglines could build to make it an appealing tool for people like my mother.  She does not want a list of feeds to monitor.  The My Yahoo! environment is more than enough for her already.  And if Bloglines looks more like a dashboard, then it will lose its core user base who wants to manage lots of feeds.

Volume isn’t the problem.  The problem is about design, utility, and quality.  It’s also about the distribution model.  

Digital music adoption should be an indication of what could happen with the right pieces in place.  According to a recent report at Macworld, "Consumers will buy more than 104 million hard drive and flash-based digital music players by 2009, up from 27.8 million in 2004."  The devices are solid.  The content suits the tools.  The distribution and revenue streams are tied together effectively.  And the software design lowers the barrier for consumption.  Volume is picking up because the model is complete.

"The International Federation of Phonographic Industries said that 180 million single tracks were downloaded legally in the first six months of [2005], compared to 57 million tracks in the first half of 2004 and 157 million for the whole of last year."

The real qualitative impact of RSS on the wider public will happen when the important individual bits of data (movie recommendations from my friends, events happening in my neighborhood, deals on airfare for the places I want to go, etc.) are delivered to people more efficiently.  Something needs to serve people the right content in the right format on the right device at the right time.  The consumer shouldn’t search for that data.  The data should find us.

RSS is the right protocol, but the tools that deliver and present feed items should be smarter.  They need to know the types of things that people want to receive and parameters for evolving what is delivered based on user input.  Does that come in the form of attention data?  Does it come in the form of a new tool design of some sort?  Is it a reader that morphs as it gets used more and more?

Personally, I’m a big Bloglines fan.  It helps me on many different levels.  I know I’m not alone, but I also know that we’re in the minority.  Let’s face it...your mother isn’t going to change her home page to Bloglines any time soon.  And the cute Rojo icons don’t make it any more interesting to someone who has no idea why reading this way could be better than reading a newspaper.

I agree with the arguments that the wider public might not collect volumes of feed sources to track.  But I’m sure people will consume more content via RSS if the right content is delivered in the right format in the right place at the right time.  I’m also sure that neither the tri-pane reader nor the AJAX dashboard is going to be the catchall solution for RSS consumption.  RSS will be served in many forms.

Tags:  rss, bloglines, rojo, yahoo


Re: The failure of RSS readers
by Chas. Porter on Wed 02 Nov 2005 01:02 AM EST

RSS readers need to help me focus on information that is of value to me. A simple count of how many times I read a feed would be a great start. That would allow me to sort and cull based on my previous behaviour. Currently, I have know way of identifying the dead wood in the 60 feeds in my subscription list. The RSS reader I use, NetNewsWire, is essentially useless without this feature. Once I can sort and cull, there then is the possibility of adding a recommendation feature, a "People who read X also like Y." What do you think?


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Why is RSS taking so long to reach big time mainstream adoption?
Weblog:  Matt McAlister
Excerpt:  A lot of blame can be placed on the tools providers.  The business models have some headroom before RSS is required in the publishing mix.  And the format itself has some inherent awkwardness.  These are obvious to those of us watching t...
Posted:  Wed Feb 08 12:45:21 EST 2006
The failure of RSS readers