RSS is Not Dead. The Concept of "Subscribing" Is. – Stay N Alive

RSS is Not Dead. The Concept of "Subscribing" Is.

Show me your numbers. There are a lot of blogs out there claiming, “RSS is dead.” “RSS isn’t dead.” The problem is very few of these articles have any substance to prove that fact. The fact is, based on my numbers, the number of new people actually subscribing to this blog is tapering off, and you can see the graph here to prove that:

Notice how both the higher, and lower numbers are starting to plateau?

The green line represents subscribers (which, actually, is most of you reading this right now). The higher points are what this blog looks like when FriendFeed subscribers come into play (FriendFeed submits to Feedburner that all your followers there count as subscribers on your blog(s)). The bottom dips in the line represent what the actual number of subscribers for this blog are (the lower ones towards the end are when this blog was down as I switched from WordPress to Blogger – another post on that later). No matter which trend you look at, though, you can see it’s not an exponential growth. It’s not even an “up and to the right” trend. It’s starting to plateau. There simply aren’t as many new subscribers as there used to.

In an informal poll where I brought up this same issue on Facebook, it seems many of you are seeing the same thing. Joshua Simmons said, “Personally I’ve abandoned my Google Reader (which I never could keep up with) — now I just use Facebook Newsfeed and wait for relevant articles to percolate through my social network.” Glen Campbell said, “I gave up on blogs about 18-24 months ago. Just couldn’t keep up with them all.” Kathy Fitch said, “I never sub to blogs. Since blog search is so easy, and they are returned in standard search results, anyway, I’d rather happily discover new ones that way. Others, I discover through FB and Twitter posts. A very few, I just drop in on from time to time.” David Terry said, “I still use RSS, but not nearly as much as in the past. There is only so much time in the day that you can spend on things… today my attention is split across more outlets and RSS is only one of them and probably the least effective of any of them at finding stuff that interests me (because not every post on any given blog is worth reading). So I use it, but I’d imagine my own usage will only continue to decline.” The list goes on.

Maybe my blog just isn’t as popular as it was before. That could likely be the case. However, when you look at my pageviews and visitor counts, those are still up and to the right, and consistently growing. Because of that, I don’t think it’s a matter of you don’t like my content (although I won’t blame you if you think that’s the case).

Even when you look at Google, it seems even they are putting less emphasis on the concept of “subscribing.” In the new Google Profiles, you see a tab that links to Google Buzz, but very little emphasis on where they could be linking to your Google Reader shares and posts.

The fact is, people are getting more and more used to the concept of “following”, and less and less used to the concept of “subscribing.” Even I, perhaps one of the most active Google Reader users out there, find myself actually subscribing to individual blogs less and less, and just following the shares of others more and more. It takes a whole lot for me to decide I want to actually subscribe to an individual blog vs. just follow another individual who has a lot of good shares. Even Google Reader is moving more and more to the “follow” model.

Is RSS dead? Of course not, and I would debate anyone who suggests it is. The fact is RSS is just a protocol that powers many things on the web, even the items that are being shared by the people you are following. However, what I think a lot of these blogs actually mean is that the concept of “subscribing” to individual blogs via RSS is going down, and that I can stand behind. I think many of the blogs arguing this fact are seeing their subscriber numbers, something they used to pride themselves on in the past, and calling RSS dead is how they’re trying to explain that fact.

If, indeed, subscriber numbers are slowing, I’d like to see more bloggers show that fact. Don’t just say “RSS is dead”. Put your money where your mouth is.

Am I killing the RSS feed for this blog any time soon? Of course not, and I probably will never do that, because that kills the opportunity for you to get shares in an automated fashion and share those with the people that follow you. I did, however, decide to kill the widget with the number of subscribers this blog had in the upper-right of StayNAlive.com. You’ll now find the emphasis placed on following me on Twitter, Liking me on Facebook, and knowing where you can follow the real me to get my updates. That seems to be where the trend is going.

With the sheer amount of data we have to process as humans in this day and age, the “News Stream” is where people are now going to get news, and it’s from their friends, not blogs. They now skim and sift – they don’t just read.

“Subscribing” is in the process of extinction. The “follow” is the future. It’s now about people more than content.

22 thoughts on “RSS is Not Dead. The Concept of "Subscribing" Is.

  1. Interesting article, thanks for posting.

    I think you may well be spot on with your observations that we are moving away from subscribing and towards following. I remember moving away from Email subscriptions as I needed to uncluttered my inbox and RSS seemed to be the perfect solution. Now, as you observed, I can now see a point rapidly approaching of information overload in that delivery medium also and following through the social networks could be the answer. I can't help feeling that I will miss undiscovered gems of content though.

    Great food for thought, thanks for sharing.

  2. Good article Jesse.

    RSS is a great technology that has been undermined in 3 ways: by publishers and by RSS readers themselves and by the users of RSS.

    1) Publishers truncate their content so you go to their site to read the rest of the article and they made ad money off of your eyes. Completely understandable but undermines the use of RSS in a sense.

    2) RSS readers are almost all the same thing. It's different packaging with consistent elements like Unread Counts and poor organizational methods.

    3) Users – It makes no sense to subscribe to publishers who push content in high volumes because you can so easily fall behind and become apathetic. RSS readers are perfect for sources that publish in medium or low quantities (less than 30 posts per week per source) because you can keep on top of that, at least until you have too many sources.

    Readers are a fantastic idea but we need to innovate in that area 100%. There needs to be a better way to consume content in one place.

  3. That's good stuff. I'm actually surprised I'm able to comment on this blog. That's one thing that I've eliminated from mine was blogging. Instead you'll found links to connect with me on Twitter and facebook.

  4. Okay, I'll play the contrarian, here. I'm still an avid subscriber. Google Reader is step one in my daily news discovery process. (I found this article through GReader.) I still subscribe to new blogs or other services all the time.

    The first reason I'm still subscription based: I detest having to visit different blogs or web sites to do my reading — I want it all in one place and be able to use one app. Bring the data to me, not me to the data.

    Second, it's about the interface. To me, the native Facebook and Twitter interfaces are just too noisy. Many blogs are just as noisy (I really don't like live update widgets, Flash or animated ads, etc.) RSS through GReader gives me a compact headline scanning interface I can use to judge the value of any piece of information. I open or star only the most promising and dismiss the rest. In Facebook or Twitter you pretty much have to view everything to discover the truly interesting.

    Third, I'm not a big believer in “real-time” news on the Internet. The best article (for my understanding of a subject) about an idea or issue may have been posted or tweeted when I wasn't online. (If I relied on real-time tweets, I wouldn't be responding to this blog post, because I wasn't online when it was posted.) RSS feeds are history. They represent collected knowledge, and that gives me a wider range of sources to choose from to get information.

    Now, let me ask this: is there really a difference between following and subscribing? If I follow, say, CNN Breaking News and they tweet their headlines, how is that different than getting their headline RSS feed? If I follow you or some other tech blogger in Twitter or Facebook to see when you post to your blog, how is that different than getting the direct blog RSS feed? Both will drive me to your web site, but, for me, the compact simplicity of something like an RSS reader is much more useful than trying to find it through Twitter or Facebook.

    Where Twitter and Facebook shine (for me) is in the area of serendipity. RSS feeds show me what I expect to see. Through Facebook and Twitter I often find news and information I wasn't expecting, and that has value. I often find new information sources through Twitter, particularly, that then lead to new RSS subscriptions.

  5. It's funny. I just bumped up my RSS reader use recently. First I cleaned out the blogs that haven't updated since 2010, then I started added in new ones that I'd otherwise forget about if I didn't have them all in one place. It's definitely not dying, as I too get more subscribers every day. Plus there are other great uses for RSS, including using them to update your Twitter account via services like Twitterfeed.

  6. I really like this perspective (unlike the increasingly hyperbolic titles). RSS is going nowhere, even if three important people decide not to do it. Granted, Google Reader can get overwhelming, but to solve that, I started over, deleting all of my subscriptions and slowly added quality blogs, one at a time. If I no longer like 'em, I unsubscribe, keeping the number of posts to a manageable level. No more “you have more than 1000 unread messages” alerts πŸ™‚

  7. Do you use Google Reader to subscribe to individual blogs, or do you follow
    people on Google Reader and get your updates that way? Which do you do more?
    This isn't about Google Reader – you can do both with Google reader. πŸ™‚

  8. This is interesting. My boss was just asking if I subscribe to a certain industry blog and telling me I need to…then I realized she was talking about an article I had seen earlier today via Twitter. Subscribing, it just piles up with everything else in my inbox and I pass by it intending to get back to it later. When I sit down to Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, I'm there to catch up on that type of info so I'm less likely to miss something.

  9. I almost never use an RSS reader – never have – although I know some who do (like Louis Gray). As Clovely commented, what I do read is what crosses my path online – and I control much of that by whose blogs I choose to feed (via their RSS – so dropping your RSS feed would be a REALLY bad idea) into my Twitter Feed. Before I switched my focus to Twitter, I did the same type of thing on FriendFeed (before they sold out).

    What I see is what my favorite collaborators believe is important enough to call to my attention and what gets the most activity on Twitter. Each person has their own method for keeping up with what is going on around them.

  10. I do consume more than 20 Articles/posts a day through Google reader syndicating RSS feeds from different portals/blog. and I see it amazingly relieving thing to do rather than jumping here and there looking for information and updates.

  11. Quote: “
    the News Stream is where people are now going to get news, and it's from their friends, not blogs”.

    Why would following “your friends” get you more valuable information than following “websites” or “blogs”? Where do your friends get their info? If they do have valuable sources, you might as well connect straight to them, instead of relying on your friends to do the filtering for you.Moreover, by reading blogs or websites or any other media, or following people who are not your “friends”, you may discover stuff that you friend-filter never would have brought up.

  12. Interesting thought, Jesse, especially regarding subscription dying. With most of us buried in emails and “unsubscribing” regularly and RSS readers being something of the past – what's next?

    I'd like to see some other avenues to control the information flow utilizing the RSS that's already in place. Leaving me in control.

    You mention the follow-concept taking off, but I don't see that people are necessary consuming the information:

    — Twitter is only manageable via Lists – and even then it's a firehose. One can scroll through the tweets to find those of interest, but who has time to really spend on that regularly?

    — Facebook is worse than television/radio with incessant noise from pages one has been stupid enough to “like” – it would be different if those pages didn't feel it necessary to blast out info all day every day, but…I find I am “unliking” just as much as I “unsubscribe”.

    At the end of all this, I may resort to an old tech called a portal (like iGoogle) wherein I can easily scan the headlines of the blog posts and updates – with news – without having to clean out my inbox (or scroll down through Facebook). For me, it will help maintain my focus, save me time, protect my privacy (a la Facebook's incessant issues). Amazing – year 2000 or so technology may be the most workable of all for the moment, coupled with RSS feeds.

    Wonder what Zack thinks the new subscription/consumption model should be? πŸ™‚

  13. An interesting model for casual information scanning and discovery, all while staying with a self-selected list of relevant sources, may be the one that apps like “Flipboard” (
    http://flipboard.com/
    )
    on the iPad propose.

    It presents your RSS-feeds, your Twitter- and Facebook-stream, and other sources, in a format resembling a magazine. It even pulls in extra content (text and pictures) from the hyperlinks embedded in the feeds and streams, so you lose no time in digging to the deeper levels.

  14. Good info, Vowani – just watched Flipboard's promo video.
    Is Flipboard what will work for you to replace RSS/subscriptions? Meet your needs?When I watched it, I didn't see RSS promoted as an example: There was a strong focus on seeing what your twitterstream and Facebook friends are reading/recommending. (And I don't have an iPad.) I'm still key on seeing just headline+ type info, segmented by info / area (like tech, politics, et al) and/or fave blogs. Dive in if I want to. And I don't have Zuckerberg selling my info – or others.Interesting concept – I'm sure you're spot-on with this direction that the market is going. It leverages what users have already put together…Thanks for sharing!

  15. Apart from the curated content that Facebook proposes, you can synchronize with RSS-feeds you have subscribed to in Google Reader. So, Flipboard presents you with an additional option to peruse your feeds, more magazine-like in nature.

    I find myself using both: sometimes I prefer the “list of headlines” focus of Google Reader, while at other times I use Flipboard. Both have advantages and disadvantages. With regards to the magazine-style of Flipboard, I have noticed that my attention is attracted to articles I would not have noticed when using my standard RSS-reader, in particular because of the way my eye is drawn to certain headlines, pictures, illustrations.

    So indeed, “information presentation” also seems to be an important factor in “information discovery”.

  16. So… what Flipboard is going to try to do is combine the social-verse and content shared/voted on therein – with RSS feeds one has personally selected. A nice hybrid, no?

    And we, as users, can customize whether we want just headlines or big bold multi-pages of stuff… like the video.

    I like it! I think I'll develop one for the non-iPads of the world.

    LOL!

    Thanks! Great conversation – we should have been doing this over on Amplify or something. πŸ™‚ What's a bit hysterical is that I've spent a good part of past few days dinking with RSS feeds and whatnot…. for my blogs. Too weird.

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