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Re: Thoughts on RSS

Matt Rickard wrote on RSS:

RSS readers act like email clients in how they render content via HTML. Unfortunately, email content isn’t as rich as the JavaScript-powered web today. Maybe that’s OK for email (and podcasts), but not for generic blog content.

Even the negatives on his list seem like huge positives.

Technically, he’s wrong here; there’s nothing stopping an RSS feed from getting slathered in JavaScript and CSS and there are many reading apps that will display that.

But culturally, that practice isn’t very widespread, thankfully, and RSS (including Atom) has been a readers’ bastion. This is a good thing, not a bad.

Substack has revitalized the blogging movement by giving away free hosting and email lists, and a business model for supporting writers. As email newsletters grow, RSS is a decent alternative to an increasingly cluttered email inbox.

One of the few things on his list that comes across as being meant as a positive, and I still disagree with it, since it’s possible to pipe email to RSS readers or RSS feeds to email apps.

Commercial incentives work against RSS. The protocol competes with internet advertising models (Google search ads, Facebook feed ads) and subscription models. Walled garden content aggregation is significantly more profitable than free syndication (e.g., Reddit, Facebook)

This is great for readers. Imagine if novels were littered with ads.

RSS doesn’t have a true sponsor. Netscape initially developed it. Later, Aaron Swartz led a redesign and fork. Yahoo designed the Media RSS specification. There’s also been some political strife with the RSS Advisory Board.

Because it already works. Not everything needs to be a race to the bottom. Some things can just be as they are.

Creator incentives work against RSS. The protocol does not benefit content creators because it doesn’t give them any insight into their audience (number of subscribers, emails, or other data).

Technically not true (there can be tracking pixels and such) except for the emails thing, which is a good thing. You can just read. Imagine if a book made you write down your address before opening it.

RSS is one-way publishing; there is no way for content creators and their audience to interact (e.g., through comments or replies).

I kinda don’t think of the people reading this as an “audience”; they can have their own blog.

Curation and discoverability are more difficult on RSS than on native platforms. Of course, you can build this into the reader, but that requires scale to get good signals (scale only available to the internet advertising companies).

This is actually my favorite thing about RSS! I’ve kinda stopped thinking of upsell and spamming as “discoverability”; with RSS, I can follow along with what I don’t wanna miss, but I don’t get sucked into rabbit holes.

RSS had usability issues – discovering a feed and seeing raw XML was too technical for the average user.

True. This was a li’l bit alleviated when browsers had built in RSS readers (and I’m glad they were optional, because they sucked).

One of the best things about RSS is that the Fediverse uses it.♥ So RSS can’t die as long as the Fediverse lives.