RSS was one of the standards that promised to deliver this syndicated future. To Werbach, RSS was “the leading example of a lightweight syndication protocol.” Another contemporaneous article called RSS the first protocol to realize the potential of Extensible Markup Language (XML), a general-purpose markup language similar to HTML that had recently been developed. It was going to be a way for both users and content aggregators to create their own customized channels out of everything the web had to offer. And yet, two decades later, after the rise of social media and Google’s decision to shut down Google Reader, RSS appears to be a slowly dying technology, now used chiefly by podcasters, programmers with tech blogs, and the occasional journalist. Though of course some people really do still rely on RSS readers, stubbornly adding an RSS feed to your blog, even in 2019, is a political statement. That little tangerine bubble has become a wistful symbol of defiance against a centralized web increasingly controlled by a handful of corporations, a web that hardly resembles the syndicated web of Werbach’s imagining.
The future once looked so bright for RSS. What happened? Was its downfall inevitable, or was it precipitated by the bitter infighting that thwarted the development of a single RSS standard?
I still wholeheartedly believe in RSS. It’s why I stubbornly pay for Feedbin every month. It’s how I prefer to ingest the web.
Maybe that makes me old, or opposed to change, but this article hits the nail on the head of why I find RSS so important, while providing key insight to the format’s inception.
My biggest counter to the article is the idea that Twitter and Facebook now serve as that syndication tool. While they certainly do, by no means should it remain. I think RSS – or it’s new cousin, JSON Feed – need a mainstream revival.
Google – if you’re listening, mind spinning back up Reader?