4.9.09

Is RSS dead? I think not...

There has been a lot of speculation here and here on how RSS is dying. Or indeed dead already. The gist of the argument is that it is a Web 1.0 idea which was good at a time, never took off and pales in front of the more recent, Web 2.0 social network innovations like Twitter and Facebook which more then effectively replace RSS. The number of people actually using RSS is also pretty less - one of the links mentions a Forrester study.

I have had my problems with RSS feeds. I actually gave up on RSS completely for a while and moved to StumbleUpon for a significant amount of time. The reasons are pretty much what you will have read - too much clutter in feeds, a disconcertingly big backlog, indiscriminate posting by news outlets and so on. But once I figured out Google Reader, Yahoo Pipes and topic based distribution sites, RSS has come back into my life.

I find it difficult to believe that RSS is dead. To state the obvious, it is a syndication format, not an opinion piece. It is not the news, but the news carrier, if you will. I find it much easier to consume, organize and follow than a very rambling and noisy Twitter list.There are enough ways to filter your feeds to keep out the unwanted and keep in the sufficient. There is more mojo with RSS which you can read here and here. In short RSS based feeds are easier to consume, organize and make sense of in any quantity compared to the high noise social outlets.

Its actually my main learning tool at this time. InfoQ, IBM Developer Works, DZone and quite a lot of outlets have multiple writers posting new articles and walkthroughs. I find it easier to select a limited number of subject-specific feeds, organize them in an easy-to-understand order,pick up a new topic, jump to it, and go through it. Do I have a large backlog - yes, I do, but I also have more leisure in selecting the right topic for me and working from there. In all fairness, Reader has been a valuable tool making my work much easier.

Here's one other thing that I use rss feeds for - automated messages from my Continuous Integration Server, Hudson. I don't need to keep a window tab open to keep an eye on my different builds, I just follow a feed. Which brings me to the real reason I rely heavily on my Reader feeds - enterprise policy. I work in a big corporate and like most it locks down Gmail, Facebook and Twitter among other sites - something about lost productivity. But that still leaves me open to aggregating feeds via Reader. It is also easier than opening multiple tabs and relying on going back and forth and keeping track of what you were doing. Most of the commentators I linked to probably do not work in such locked-down environments, more power to them. But I do and that makes RSS more flexible and simpler to use.

Twitter is an awesome service - barring the spam, the self-promotion and the almost always irrelevant tags used to push oneself up to the top of the latest results for something or the other. I don't dismiss twitter - I follow a couple of good sources on Reader and Twitter. But organizing Twitter is not very easy for me to understand, and I am still working out a few visualization ideas. Lets see where that goes. Maybe later on this...

I still don't think RSS is dead. All the reading I did for writing this actually strengthens my feelings.