The problem with RSS might be its name (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication).
I was at a meeting recently with a busy executive and the topic turned to RSS. I asked him if he was a fan. He shook his head. “I don’t have time for it,” he said.
At first, I thought he was kidding, but then I realized that he really didn’t understand RSS. In his mind, RSS was another complicated desktop application for techies and social media geeks. When he heard “RSS” he imagined an application that was going to cut away valuable time from his busy schedule. He was afraid that RSS would be a time-waster.
In fact, RSS saves so much time that it is almost ridiculous. If I was forced to do without RSS at this point – I don’t know what I’d do. Could I really go back to the days of using my bookmark feature on Firefox or Explorer? No way. RSS allows people to subscribe to a web site and have the headlines (and summaries or full articles) displayed on their computer desktop. The feeds are stacked on top of each other in neat little rows that allow for easy perusal of the content. With a simple click you are reading the story.
No more downloading. No more waiting for web pages to load. No more skipping blindly from web site to web site searching for new content. So why aren’t more people using RSS? Back in October 2008, Forrester Research released a report saying that only 11 percent of Internet users utlized RSS feeds. Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion even predicted that RSS adoption had peaked and would never hit the mainstream.
I disagree. RSS is only 10 years old and the fancy smancy orange RSS logos that made RSS so accessible are less than four years old. I predict that it’s only a matter of time before RSS catches on in a big way. It’s too easy at its essence not to have its hockey stick moment. I do believe that RSS advocates need to do a better job of explaining the benefits and not making the process of subscribing appear so cumbersome (when you subscribed to a feed you often get a jumble of text and then some rather cryptic commands – at least it appears that way to non-techies).
It is fashionable these days for early adopters to frown on RSS as yesterday’s technology and recommend Twitter and FriendFeed as more effective (and peer approved) RSS feeders. The logic behind this is that if your followers (and those that you’re following) are recommending an article or blog post then it must be worthy to read. All true, but those followers and friends are “finding” articles to recommend and the best way to organize all of that content is still through RSS feeders.
Social media guru Paul Gillin also has an interesting take on RSS at his blog – not about the personal use aspects, but how web sites may be the biggest beneficaries of RSS. As Paul notes, this could be the ticket for RSS (and certainly shows that RSS is no fad, but a crucial component of what makes Web 2.0 function).
For non-techies who want to see how easy it is to use RSS, I recommend setting up an iGoogle account or using Google Reader. You’ll find out quickly the amazing benefits of having your favorite web sites located in one spot and just a click away.