Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Rise and Demise of RSS

Sinclair Target (Hacker News):

While Netscape was trying to win eyeballs in what became known as the “portal wars,” elsewhere on the web a new phenomenon known as “weblogging” was being pioneered. One of these pioneers was Dave Winer, CEO of a company called UserLand Software, which developed early content management systems that made blogging accessible to people without deep technical fluency. Winer ran his own blog, Scripting News, which today is one of the oldest blogs on the internet. More than a year before Netscape announced My Netscape Network, on December 15th, 1997, Winer published a post announcing that the blog would now be available in XML as well as HTML.


At the root of this disagreement about namespaces was a deeper disagreement about what RSS was even for. Winer had invented his Scripting News format to syndicate the posts he wrote for his blog. Guha and Libby at Netscape had designed RSS and called it “RDF Site Summary” because in their minds it was a way of recreating a site in miniature within Netscape’s online portal. Davis, writing to the Syndication mailing list, explained his view that RSS was “originally conceived as a way of building mini sitemaps,” and that now he and others wanted to expand RSS “to encompass more types of information than simple news headlines and to cater for the new uses of RSS that have emerged over the last 12 months.”


Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was. Lots of people have offered explanations for why RSS lost its broad appeal. Perhaps the most persuasive explanation is exactly the one offered by Gillmor in 2009. Social networks, just like RSS, provide a feed featuring all the latest news on the internet. Social networks took over from RSS because they were simply better feeds. They also provide more benefits to the companies that own them.

Brent Simmons:

In a nutshell: judging RSS itself because RSS readers are not mainstream is to miss everything that RSS does. And judging RSS readers for not being mainstream is to judge them against expectations set by some hype artists more than a decade ago — but not by me or anybody else actually doing the work.

I don’t expect to see RSS readers running on every Mac and iOS device. This does not make it a failure.

2 Comments RSS · Twitter

I love the irony of reading this article via my Feedly account - aggregating RSS feeds from several dozen sites that I try to stay on top of.

Fascinating article. Unlike the author of the response ("oh god not this again"), I didn't find it judgmental but rather an honest and thorough examination of the history of the RSS and the ideas behind it. There was a time, and it feels like not even all that long ago, when RSS and RSS reader apps kinda *were* mainstream. Or at least might have become mainstream. Now, though, we just have Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Asking why these forces dominate traffic and readership on the Web, and why RSS does not, is not about denigrating the RSS technology or its users. These questions are essential to understanding how we got here and how, I hope, to escape this current situation.

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