Will RSS Fall to Apps?

743075Several of my friends have launched iPhone apps recently.  (I am lookin’ at you, Brian Solis, Chris Brogan, Tamar Weinberg and C.C. Chapman.)  This is getting easier and easier to do, thanks to emergent services like Mobile Roadie and Motherapp.

On the one hand, yea, I admit it, I smirked at each new announcement.  Felt a little too self-reverential.  Even Mitch Joel — no shrinking violet — called them “Golden Calf” apps.

But I parleyed with C.C. about it, and read his post carefully.  His point is not lost on me: RSS is a tool of the elite; most folks surf their Bookmarks rather than use an RSS Reader.

Meanwhile, apps are becoming ubiquitous — not just on iPods, iPhones (and upcoming iPads), but via the Android Store, etc.

So why not create a single-serving RSS feed, in app form, which offers the further benefits of providing additional content (podcasts, etc.) in one place?

I get it.

I’m just not ready to do it.

Posted on: February 5, 2010 at 12:15 pm By Todd Defren
16 Responses to “Will RSS Fall to Apps?”


  • Hi, i would just like to say, what a informative post! i am just doing a bit of research for my site but i had issues reading this article due to the text protruding on to the menu…. edit… oops! the problems my end, it is my ancient version of chrome causing the fault. Could be worth asking ppl to update? Domenic Kenworthy

  • Todd:

    Here’s my take on the app/rss/blog issue. In a word, I’m serving up convenience… http://bit.ly/90yN5C

  • Bill Flitter says:

    As one of the largest managers of RSS feeds for some 60% of the top Comscore ranked publishers (I only say that to establish creditability), Shel’s point is right on. No longer do we say, I have to read my SMTP or I have to read my favorite HTML. RSS is the plumbing. It is not going anywhere, if anything it is find new/more places for it use. My company sees at lot of RSS feeds every day, and the traffic has not declined only gotten bigger the last 2 years. RSS is the grandfather of syndication on the web. It started the movement. Sure, I know what you are thinking, of course I am going to defend my business. Continue reading…

    Straight-up RSS consumption in RSS readers has failed. The biggest growth problem with RSS adoption is it is too difficult to subscribe to for the average non Silicon Valley/Alley person. The browsers like Firefox stepped in because they thought they could do a better job of improving the subscription problem. They failed.

    We are at the beginning stages of a titanic shift in how people consume content. Facebook has become the 4th largest consumption point for news – sure numbers are still in single digit percentages, but the growth rate is astonishing. In its short life, it has surpassed Google News. Why? Ease of use! It is easy to Friend or Follow (if you are on Twitter). With 300M people in Facebook, sharing life, sharing/consuming content/news was bound to happen. And guess what is powering a lot of that news running through Facebook – yep, RSS. Facebook is training us to consume content in a stream. They will have a big impact on how we consume content moving forward. Who cares what is powering – just give me my news!

    Om Malik, sums it up nicely. “And now we are seeing yet another subtle change in people’s behavior and how content is discovered online. It is happening because of three major reasons”
    1. The web is transitioning from mere interactivity to a more dynamic, real-time web where read-write functions are heading towards balanced synchronicity. The real-time web, as I have argued in the past, is the next logical step in the Internet’s evolution. (read)
    2. The complete disaggregation of the web in parallel with the slow decline of the destination web. (read)
    3. More and more people are publishing more and more “social objects” and sharing them online. That data deluge is creating a new kind of search opportunity. (read)

    Check back next year this time when the eReaders or the IPad gets mass adoption. Yes another big shift waiting to happen.

    Bill Flitter
    Dlvr.it and Pheedo, Inc.

  • Matt searles says:

    I’m so with Shel on the story of what RSS is and its continued importance and I don’t have the faintest idea of how creating apps would in anyway take away from that. I mean isn’t the app probably just taking your rss feeds and visualizing it one way or another anyways? I think building apps is a total no brainer.. and its not like it means you can’t use an RSS reader just cause someone builds an app..

    The issue of RSS / RSS Readers as a tool for the elite.. I guess I still see the possibility of it becoming a tool for the rif raf.. Hell, what if Apple decided to build into there iPad and iPhone as some kind of a core app? And then Operah decided it was cool? Sure, it might be a sign of the apocalypse but.. I just think there are reasons people haven’t adopted them in large numbers and that those reasons could change easily enough..

    And even if RSS Readers became the groovy new thing.. I still see a roll for these apps. I know about RSS Readers but I tend to use Twitter instead.. and even if I subscribe to one of your feeds, I’m probably not subscribing to all them, may not know about all of them.. or may not be interested in all of them.. etc.

    Im not sure about these off the shelf kinda apps though.. I think there are design issues involved with how you explore the content which needs to be seriously thought through. I mean.. stupid obvious stuff for CC like.. some people like the digital dads, some people like the managed grey, some people like the Hash accident.. some folks might like his flickr feed.. Its the only personal brand management stuff, and the fears of beam crossing.. or it could be an issue for some people. Not only that.. but.. for the consumer of your content.. is there a way to explore your content where I get to find the stuff I find groovy in a way that makes sense for me? Like the notion of data visualization applied to search? How would this work in an app?

  • any tool that let’s me reach my readers and make it easy for them is good.

    As Clay Shirky says “The technology really becomes useful when it’s boring”

    My readers don’t want cool tech.. they want the content. I’ll give it to them wherever and however they would like to receive it

  • Really simple math. I launched the app and picked up just short of 3000 new subscribers. Like CC said, RSS is still a tool used by the propeller head crowd, it seems.

    Know who the iPad is for? Not us. It’s for the old WebTV users who were also maligned.

    There’s an app for that, it turns out.

    Is it egotistical to have an app? I frankly don’t give a toot. I just found 3000 new prospects/collaborators/friends (depending on where they fall).

    : )

    • Joe Boughner says:

      I take your point; clearly the app is working for you. Any idea what percentage of the 3,000 are truly new prospects/collaborators/friends and how many are former subscribers simply following you to a new medium?

      I realize that might come off as sort of snarky but I didn’t intend it to; I’m genuinely curious. It seems to me that anyone looking for your app is someone who already knows what you offer – it’s hardly a general interest application. But I stand to be corrected, of course.

  • Shel Holtz says:

    I keep hammering this point: People keep mistaking RSS READERS with RSS. The use of readers may well be on the decline as people get their updates elsewhere. But RSS itself is the infrastructure of news on the web and isn’t going anywhere. In fact, with RealTime RSS, its use and its importance is trending upward. It’s just that most people won’t be aware of it, just as they’re not aware of SMTP.

    What worries me about the rhetoric proclaiming the decline of RSS is that communicators won’t produce content with feeds and thus their content won’t move through the Net. The general public doesn’t need to understand the role RSS plays. Communicators do.

  • OK… lets assume C.C. is right and RSS is limited to us few. I get that… I say RSS to most and I get a blank look. I quickly explain that it is that funny orange and white thing they see on almost every website, but at this point their eyes are glazed over.

    I’ve faced the fact that RSS will never hit critical mass, but call me crazy an individual app for every individual just doesn’t seem like the right answer. I always hoped that this would be solved by an easier to use aggregator such as Alltop, but even they are creating apps one at a time for niche topics rather than building the solution on top of My Alltop. Hope they (or anyone) come up with an easy way to start bringing this all back under one roof.

  • Hey… it’s me the “no shrinking violet” guy ;)

    When I used the term “golden calves” it was done with my tongue firmly planted in one cheek (hence the ;) thingy in my tweet). I actually don’t mind the idea. Why? I believe the most amazing thing about these tools and platforms is that it makes whatever content that you are producing more findable. There is a gold rush to iPhone apps (and the like) and if having your content on that radar matters (and it should), why wouldn’t you make the content more spreadable and findable?

    We’ve had a very elegantly designed iPhone/mobile version of my Blog available for years, and it probably would make sense to officially snap it over into an iPhone app. While I, personally, still prefer to use Google Reader on my iPhone, I know that the majority of people I interface with love having unique apps for their news and feeds, so why not make it easier for them to find you?

    • Todd Defren says:

      Yea, I know you were joking … but it was funny cause there was a grain of (possible) truth, perhaps. ;)

      Again, I am not firmly against the concept, but as another commenter noted: it leads to the fragmentation for which RSS was the elegant solution.

  • Joe Boughner says:

    I understand the rationale as well as the allure of an App. But I have to wonder where the tipping point is. The reason I love my RSS reader is that it syndicates content in ONE place. Sure it’s cumbersome sometimes but it’s one-stop shopping.

    As more and more people / outfits start introducing their own App, aren’t we steadily moving back towards the problem that RSS was supposed to solve? I don’t want to have to check a bunch of Apps in succession, I want one place to do my reading.

    You write: “why not create a single-serving RSS feed, in app form, which offers the further benefits of providing additional content (podcasts, etc.) in one place?” I would answer that it’s only single serving for the content authors. For the end-user it’s only single serving if the author is their sole source of content.

    • Todd Defren says:

      Yea, Joe, you’re spot on. When I rhetorically asked the question, I was only answering it from the perspective of the app creator.

      You’re right on your other points too. It will be interesting to watch this trend.

  • C.C. Chapman says:

    I hear what you are saying and I wrote my post about this because I knew people were going to ask questions.

    With services like you mentioned I expect a lot of people to start creating them just like everyone jumped on the rush to create Fan Pages not that long ago.

    My thing with any of these new technologies is to figure out WHAT works for you and why you will get benefit out of it.

    For me I can now send someone with an iPhone or an iPad directly to this application as a single place to get all the content I produce. That is the win for me.

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