Thursday, September 16, 2010

The death of RSS might be greatly exaggerated. Here's why....

bye, bye Bloglines
There was quite a bit of discussion this week about the viability of RSS once word got out that the Bloglines reader--once the most popular RSS reader (and most simple to use)--would be shutting down as of October 1. Bloglines isn't the first RSS reader to shut down, and there are still a whole lot of people who use RSS readers, even if the casual or less tech-savvy reader has stopped.

First, let's talk RSS readers. Years ago when I started talking about the power of blogs to small business owners, I suggested they start using an RSS reader to track news in their industry and other related bloggers. Back then, there weren't too many readers other than Bloglines, FeedDemon, and perhaps Pluck's reader (which a client told me about.) Pluck shut down its reader in January, 2007. At the time of the shutdown announcement, ReadWriteWeb's Richard McManus declared in headline "Consumer RSS Readers a Dead Market Now."

In that article, McManus gave three alternatives for consumers: Microsoft's Outlook integrated reader, MyYahoo's mail integrated reader, and the upcoming Google Reader (also integrated with Gmail, then the hot new email client on the block.)

The shift at that time was from desktop or separate web-based readers to readers included with email. Consumers could check their mail *and* check their news.

Novel concept, eh??

One of the reasons Bloglines probably lasted longer than Pluck's reader may be that it had fairly high adoption levels among bloggers, who weren't necessarily the most tech savvy folks even if many were "early adopters." Bloglines was suggested to me in 2005 by fellow blogger Jill Fallon. It became the go-to site where I could not just collect feeds but also bookmark and keep individual posts.

Remember, in 2005 many of us didn't use Delicious. It was, more than likely, not known outside of geekier circles. In fact, its founder didn't leave his day job until 2005, once the project received significant venture capital. became more popular after Yahoo! acquired it in December '05., in 2005 we have, which took the place of one of the tasks of an RSS reader.

Then, along came Google Reader in October, 2005. Gmail had just opened to the public in August of that year, but opening an account wasn't necessarily a consumer-friendly process. Google also got Gtalk going, hoping to lure people away from AOL Messenger and other chat clients.

Gtalk didn't necessarily take of bigtime--like a lot of Google products--but the Google Reader did. I would hazard a guess that it had something to do with a really nice user interface and features that made it easy to email articles to others, etc. Google could see the social networking writing on the wall, and that information wanted to be shared as much as it wanted to be (cost) free.

Which leads me back to Bloglines. In many of the posts I read on the demise of Bloglines, few if any have noted what type of RSS reader consumers might be using in its stead. The overall assumption is that consumers are now relying on links from friends on social networking sites.

But that begs the question: where are these authoritative friends getting their information? Are they going directly to websites from their browser's bookmarks? Or are they, perhaps, perusing headlines on custom homepages that may include an RSS aggregator? Could they also be picking headlines from email integrated RSS readers?

To really know what's going on with RSS readers, some smart analysts would have to do a bit of market research.  Otherwise, what's being said in the press is a lot of conjecture about the health of RSS. Now, . assuming that RSS is dead because Bloglines is shutting down and, supposedly, "people" get their news from their social network neglects the places where RSS readers reside. Further, it neglects how and why people other than "people" are using RSS readers. In the work I do for the Telefonica Developers Blog, and for work I've done for the WeMedia conferences, for Placeblogger, for, and for others, I'd say that I'd be up a creek without an RSS reader.  And, since so many other businesses, including most media businesses (and, yes, that includes p.r. firms) generate RSS feeds for at least part of their sites,  it may be safe to say that for many professionals in media, marketing, public relations, and many related (and perhaps even un-related) industries, RSS readers are still quite important for accessing the most information in a concise and timely manner.

Further:  the post that had so many bloggers, tech journalists and the like freaking out about the imminent death of RSS as a whole started with this post from Doug Leeds on the blog.  The fact that has been lagging as a search engine for years, and that Bloglines was purchased by Ask in '05 rather than Google, Yahoo! or even Microsoft (which developed their own RSS readers) says more about Bloglines and than it says about RSS readers as a whole.  Think about it.....

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