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March 20, 2013

The Slow Death Of RSS

Joey Piazza
Joey Piazza Digital Director

On Monday of this week, Google announced that it would be ending the RSS service “Google Reader” which was a content aggregator that is still widely used by a very core group of enthusiasts. So if the audience is there and the service is being used then why would they go out of their way to upset a very loyal and vocal readership? In order to answer this I think we have to look at what RSS provides and what recent developments in technology have meant for the service.

RSS was always one of those things that everyone wanted to know about but few people really understood. The way it works is you select an aggregator RSS service like Google reader. You then subscribe to any RSS feeds of your choosing from various websites. When the content was updated on the site, it would appear through your aggregator. People that championed the service liked to compare it to a television station that only got the channels you wanted. Marketers loved it because it was a way to distribute content to people interested in your product or industry. These are the elusive “evangelists” we’re always chasing.

RSS never really caught on in the same way that many social media services did that provide virtually the same service. The Facebook News Feed and all of Twitter are basically just expansions of the content. You choose what you like and content is fed to you from those sources. Five years ago when you were developing a website with any sort of dynamic content, the first thing you did at the client’s behest was to make the content accessible to an RSS feed. As a marketing tactic this bombed almost from the start. As much as a marketer wants to think that someone is so engaged in their brand they would want to have content fed to them in this manner, it just wasn’t realistic and the people never came.

Over the past 5 years Facebook and Twitter have replaced the RSS feed by offering essentially the same service, but in a less intrusive and more inviting fashion. While I may not be interested in the latest press release from “Brand X”, I am more than willing to see what Brand X has to say on Twitter or Facebook. So while RSS was instrumental in streaming content to willing recipients, the overall cumbersome format led to its slow death.

The demise has been a couple of years in the making. Marketers jumped ship years ago, now everyone will slowly follow.