Is RSS Dead? A Look At The Numbers

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RSS has taken some big hits recently. Of course, people have been announcing the death of RSS pretty much since it came into existence, but when Google Reader bit the dust on July 1st, 2013, many were ready to place a wreath at the headstone and walk away.

But like gossip, RSS just will not die. Why?

Google Reader Dead Announcement

People love juicy news that just finds its way to them. That’s why gossip works! Who wants to have to call everyone they know and grill them for juicy tidbits? Likewise, why would you spend hours finding websites that have the info you want, and then spend hours going to each site to see if anything is new?

Gossip Ducks

Why not find out who the local gossip is and have them over for a cup of tea or coffee? You’ll be caught up in minutes! RSS is your worldwide gossip, but at the same time, gives you real information not just he-said-she-said. Way better than gossip, right? So, how does this work?

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What is RSS?

Of course, this only means something to you if you know how to use RSS. First, the full name is Rich Site Syndication (RSS). You might also hear it called Really Simple Syndication – because it is pretty simple. It’s a way of taking a website, plucking off all the design information, and distilling it down to the most important info.

rss-feed

Then the feed can be automatically picked up and republished in a nice tidy little package. Of course, how RSS works fully is a bit more complicated than that, but this is the essence of it. Seems like a really useful tool, doesn’t it?

Why Do People Think RSS is Dead?

Generally speaking, technology journalists do not think it’s dead. Yet the topic keeps popping up like a dandelion in spring. Perhaps this all started back in 2009, when Steve Gillmor wrote Rest in Peace, RSS.

Gillmor felt that newer technologies like Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed were better than RSS. They, “…morphed into a realtime CMS (Content Management System).” Now is the age of the status update or ‘Statusphere’ as Gillmor referred to it. Who needs a news feed when you and your buddies can just update each other with a status or tweet? Ironically, FriendFeed has been dropped by Facebook just recently, as an obsolete technology – RSS lives on.

friend-feed-unavailable

Since then, there haven’t really been many journalistic efforts to put the nail in the coffin. But that still doesn’t stop the topic from coming back around like the stray cat you once fed. Even so, some people can see how it might seem to be dying.

Of course, when some of the biggest tech companies pull their support for it, it sure could seem like death is inevitable. Google pulled its Reader (2013), Twitter killed support for RSS (2013), Apple dropped RSS out of OS X Mountain Lion (2012), and Firefox dropped its RSS button (2011). That’s a lot of big names getting out of the RSS game.

Some of the larger on-line news outlets have also cut their RSS feeds. As Reddit member Kcin, comments, “…lots of companies stopped providing RSS feeds…to build their own walled gardens.” From a business standpoint, that makes sense. Why would a company that has to pay wages and operating costs just give away their work for free?

kcin-quote-from-reddit

If you’re getting all the info without viewing the ads, then their ad revenues plummet. Or, if they earn money through affiliate links, but no one even sees those links, then that’ll bankrupt a company quickly. Perhaps that reasoning is why some may think RSS is dying.

Why Doesn’t Anyone Else Think RSS is Dead?

Probably because it isn’t. The numbers sure seem to support this. Feedly, likely the most popular RSS reader today, has gone from around 5,000 paid subscribers in 2013 to around 50,000 paid subscribers in early 2015 – that’s a 900% increase for Feedly in two years.

feedly-subscribers

The Feedly Android app has been downloaded over 1.5 million times and over 230,000 thousand people use the Feedly Mini extension for Chrome. That’s all just for the one RSS reader on one platform. There are many good RSS readers other than Feedly. Add in the number of people using the Feedly App for iOS and it can be safely assumed that several million people use Feedly.

Ironically, Google puts up some impressive numbers for the ways they help people engage RSS feeds. Over 1.2 million people use Google News feeds to follow specific searches, and over 1.2 million people use Google’s RSS Subscription Extension for the Chrome browser. So even Google knows that RSS is still in town.

Let’s go a little further into the numbers. According to the Internet technology usage statistics compiled by BuiltWith, 2,136 of the top 10,000 sites worldwide publish RSS feeds as of Feb 2015.

builtwith-top-syndication-methods

Another statistic from BuiltWith puts the number of websites that publish RSS feeds at over 20 million worldwide. Granted, many of those sites are built on Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress, that come with RSS feed publishing as a default setting. Still, if each site had just one person use each feed, that’s 20 million people using RSS. Anytime 20 million people use anything, that thing’s existence is far from dead. Wouldn’t you be ecstatic if 20 million people used anything that you’ve created?

Will RSS Ever Die?

Maybe, but not anytime soon. Even if people stop using RSS as a way to aggregate information from various sites in one place, the RSS technology has other uses that you don’t even see. It’s used to share information behind the scenes, worldwide.

rss-business-feed

For example, let’s say you have an on-line storefront that sells widgets from WidgetCo. You’re part of a worldwide network of a thousand on-line retailers of WidgetCo widgets. WidgetCo raises and lower their prices fairly frequently. Instead of WidgetCo sending 1,000 new price lists to a 1,000 retailers by e-mail, and then each of those retailers having to manually update their prices, WidgetCo has an RSS feed of the price list. The retailers have their websites set up to read the RSS price feed and automatically adjust the prices on the website. Now, all it takes is a couple seconds to update the wholesale and retail cost of a particular widget worldwide. That sort of usage alone will ensure a long life for RSS.

Long Live RSS!

With hundreds of millions of users, the potential to recover billions in lost profits, and uses that we haven’t even thought of yet, RSS will reign for many more years. Of course, it will evolve and newer technology will come along that accomplishes the same goal even easier and better, but that just ensures its legacy – a legacy that already reaches back almost 20 years. Even when RSS is a footnote in the annals of web communications, it’s impact will still be felt for decades to come. Now that we all understand this, can we finally put the ‘RSS is dead’ discussion to rest, and just start enjoying it?

Are you a fan of RSS feeds? Which ones are your favourites? Never used RSS? Why not? Join us in the comments and we can talk about it. Lots of good things happen in our comments and writers and readers alike learn new things. We’re all in this together!

Image Credits: Open grave Via Shutterstock, Google Reader Dead via MakeUseOf.com, Gossip Ducks, John Haslam via Flickr, FriendFeed Unavailable, T David via Flickr, Feedly Subscriptions Up 900%via cote.io, RSS Business Feed via Shutterstock.

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